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The Independent Culture
AS 1998 ends, it is clear that the gambling genie is out of the bottle and will not go back in. That is evident from the resounding victory at the ballot box by the pro-gambling forces in the recent American elections. Missouri approved boat casinos, Californians voted to expand Indian casinos, in South Carolina and Alabama voters replaced anti-lottery Republican governors with pro-lottery Democrats.

At the same time, the mega-bucks casinos in Las Vegas suffered a setback. The Indian tribes in California won the right to run slot machines in their casinos. If they get their way, as subject to legal wrangling they probably will, it will cost Las Vegas an estimated $400m a year in lost revenue. This, too, was a vote for more gambling.

On the political front, the gambling lobby in the US looks like coming out well on top, in the hearings now being held by the National Gambling Impact Commission. This somewhat unwieldy body was dreamed up by the opponents of gambling, led by Rev Tom Grey, who castigates it in fire and brimstone as the distraction of the devil.

The pro-lobby is led by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican fundraiser. To hear him tell it, gambling brings more benefits to society than motherhood and apple pie combined. As industry spokesman he has a salary of of $800,000 a year. He can produce more pro-gaming statistics, it seems, than there are stars in the heavens.

Rev Grey talks a good game but in reality knows he hasn't got a prayer against the massed forces of Nevada. He is now talking of merely "reducing the spread" of commercial gaming.

The most that the commission will do, observers believe, is to put forward a series of mild recommendations, which the gambling industry can easily live with. One proposal may be to provide help for gamblers who have a "problem".

There are no reliable figures available for problem gambling, which is usually put at around 2-3 per cent of players. Who better to help these unfortunate people, by funding research and counselling, than the very casinos or lotteries that put temptation in their way in the first place? Especially as this would demonstrate a proper sense of civic responsibility.

American casinos have no intention of suffering the fate of the tobacco industry. Now they have the popular vote as well as the big bucks to ensure that their future will be "win, win, win".