Gambling's Critics Have a Tough Election Day in Their Bids for Higher Office

4 November 1998

Those interested in the future of legalized gambling have understandably concentrated their attention on a number of visible gambling measures, including Proposition 5 in California (expanded gaming on Indian reservations), "Boat in the Moat" approval in Missouri (permitting many Missouri riverboats to continue to function without further legal challenge), and pari-mutuel racing legislation in New Jersey (allowing the New Jersey legislature to act on racing measures without need for a state-wide referendum.) All of these measures passed.

Also determined by this election was the fate of a number of state Attorneys General that had been quite vocal on gambling issues, usually in the negative. At least four were seeking higher office: Hubert Humphrey III (Governor of Minnesota); Dan Lundgren (Governor of California); Scott Harshbarger (Governor of Massachusetts); and Jay Nixon (U.S. Senator from Missouri.)

All four lost!

Humphrey and Nixon were advocates of using existing state laws to challenge Internet gambling service providers who might accept customers from their respective states. Lundgren and Humphrey were two of the three co-chairs of the "Internet Working Group" of the National Association of Attorneys General. It was the 1996 Report by this NAAG group that called for changes to the Wire Communications Act (18 U.S.C. 1084), and led to the Kyl bill. In fact, Attorney General Lundgren's office was actively involved in reviewing the Kyl bill in its many draft forms. And a Business Wire summary of a pre-election report by Jason Ader, a gaming industry analyst and senior managing director for Bear, Stearns, notes that "governor candidate Harshbarger is a gaming opponent."

I am not aware of any exit poll data that indicates the anti-gambling attitudes of any of these candidates directly contributed to their loss. But I do think it worthy of note that their crusades against gambling did not insure an election victory, even - as in the cases of Humphrey and Nixon - when they were involved in very visible gambling matters during the course of their election races (Granite Gate for Humphrey, and Interactive Gaming Communications for Nixon.)

When coupled with victories of candidates for governor in South Carolina and Alabama who were pro-lottery, against sitting governors who were anti-gambling, the results indicate that (at least in 1998) being anti-gambling was not the route to winning elections.

The so-called "electoral backlash" against legalized gambling was hard to find in the results of gambling ballot measures throughout the country. And the personal loss by all these prominent gambling opponents may help put to rest the argument -- championed by professional gambling nay-sayers -- that those who oppose legalized gambling gain an edge in elections and those who support legalized gambling will suffer election defeat.

The policy debates about legalized gambling, and Internet gambling in particular, can and should go on. But the issues should be discussed on their merit. Office-holders or candidates should not fear reprisal if they reach the conclusion that gambling is not inherently evil, and that associating "legalized gambling" with the pursuit of "good public policy" is not an oxymoron."

Michael Shagan is an attorney and full-time legal/business consultant, primarily to the racing and wagering industries. He welcomes all comments. Please e-mail him at