Gambling everywhere? It's a sure thing
Americans bet billions
June 15, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A long-awaited federal study on gambling due out this week will urge America to curb its appetite for wagering. But don't bet on it.
The American Gaming Association estimates more than $50 billion is now spent annually on legal gambling in the United States. That's more than what is spent on spectator sports, movies, recorded music, video games and theme parks combined.
The country's gambling habit is more than just an economic issue, though. There are also social and even safety concerns.
"It's a very large industry in America today, and it pays billions and billions of dollars in taxes," says Frank Fahrenkopf, the gambling industry's chief lobbyist and a former Republican Party chairman.
But at what cost?
"There are more compulsive gamblers today in America than ever before in the history of this country," says Arnie Wexler, a compulsive gambling counselor. "We've exploded gambling and brought it into every neighborhood in America."
Into homes and offices, too. There are now virtual casinos on the Internet.
And what about day-traders, who buy and sell stocks on the Internet, sometimes holding shares for only a few minutes with the hope of quick profit?
That's also a form of gambling, says Jonathan Schnapp.
"This is something that is never a sure thing," says Schnapp, a real estate agent who spends much of his time at home, and in the office, trying to make fast money. "I've seen the potential of making so much money in minutes," he told CNN.
For gamblers with less nerve, state-run lotteries are a hit, despite overwhelmingly unfavorable odds. But there are times when lotteries become too popular.
In Connecticut, for example, communities may be allowed to declare Powerball emergencies that would suspend sales of the game for 24 hours if heavy demand for tickets creates a "threat to public safety."
The state legislature passed the proposed legislation on Monday.
The bill was approved after many wealthy Connecticut towns bordering New York were recently overrun with Powerball players from New York, New Jersey and other states that do not offer the game.
Hoping to curb addictive gambling, a federal law enacted in 1988 prohibited casinos from advertising on radio and television. On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down the broadcast ban as a violation of free speech rights.
The unanimous decision came just days before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission will recommend federal and state governments do more to research and treat gambling problems.
The federal commission issues its final report to Congress, the president, Indian tribes and governors on Friday. Among is recommendations are a moratorium on new lotteries and casinos, and legislation to outlaw gambling on the Internet.
Thanks in part to gambling industry supporters on the panel, most of the report's dozens of recommendations will be aimed toward state governments.
In addition to casinos, the commission studied gambling on Indian land, aboard riverboats and cruises, at pari-mutuel tracks and in state lotteries.
Its recommendations include raising the betting age to 21, increasing help for addicted gamblers, and banning betting on college sports.
The report will say that "only about 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the adult population are pathological gamblers," predicts Fahrenkopf.
Still, that could be as many as several million people, reason enough for gambling opponents in Congress to consider rewriting the now-unconstitutional broadcast ban on casino advertising.
"You have to ban it all," says Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who sponsored the legislation creating the gambling study commission. "But are governors prepared to give up the money they're getting from lotteries?
"I don't think they are," he told CNN. "Are the Indians ready to give up the money they're getting?"
For the moment, those questions go unanswered. But even gambling's critics aren't likely to bet against the industry coming up with new ways to make a buck.
Panel recommends ban on Internet gambling
American Gaming Association
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