- Senator Barack Obama is reportedly an avid poker player. But he spoke out in opposition to expanded gambling when he was a State Senator in Illinois. And according to an article in today's LA Times (registration required), he developed a reputation in Illinois as a critic of gambling.
As a matter of principle, he repeatedly opposed expanding gambling in Illinois, saying it was bad for communities and not a good way to fund government.The Clinton campaign is now using that opposition against Obama in the run-up to the Nevada caucuses, which take place on Saturday, and where the topic is obviously of local importance.
As recently as 2003, Obama, then an Illinois state senator, said he believed the "moral and social cost of gambling" was potentially "devastating" and that using gaming as a source of revenue or for economic development was "irresponsible." [Review Journal.com]
The issue has come into focus primarily due to the Clinton campaign, which has distributed a document to local reporters, headlined, "Obama Blasted Gambling as Socially Destructive and Economically Irresponsible," listing several of his past quotes.Hillary has cast herself as a supporter of the industry, and, in an interview for the LA Times piece, more or less pooh-poohed concerns about social costs.
In 2001, the Clinton memo states, Obama described himself as "generally skeptical" of gambling as an economic development tool and likened the expansion of slot machines to the state lottery, in which, he said, "you'll have a whole bunch of people who can't afford gambling their money away, yet they're going to do it."
As part of its efforts to publicize those statements, the Clinton campaign has secured the help of top industry players -- several of whom participated in a campaign-sponsored conference call with the media last week designed to chastise Obama. [LA Times]
Clinton aides said the New York senator had long supported communities' efforts to lure new casinos to economically struggling places outside New York City, such as upstate New York and the Catskills.The Times also notes that Senator Clinton is listed on the Empire Resorts website as a supporter. Empire is the owner of Monticello Raceway, which had its bid to partner with the St Regis tribe to build a casino there rejected by the Interior Department earlier this month. That decision is being contested, and it's obvious where Empire Resorts' campaign contributions will be headed. A Clinton Administration II would apparently be more amenable to approving the casino.
Clinton likened the potential social costs of gambling to the costs of other industries that pollute or leave toxic dumps, saying that the impact "depends on how well-regulated it is."
"Any human activity has social costs, really," she said, adding later: "Life is filled with trade-offs, and you have to do the best you can to balance the pluses and the minuses."
Obama has softened his stance somewhat on gambling from his days as an Illinois State Senator. And, whereas he refused contributions from the industry at that time, he now ranks 10th in the Senate in terms of the amount of money accepted from gambling concerns; you can decide cause or effect for yourself.
Obama's campaign says there is no inconsistency because he believes states should regulate gambling. As an Illinois state senator, he objected to the way the state regulated the industry. In Nevada, he believes regulation has been done right. And as a federal lawmaker, he doesn't have an oversight role. [Review Journal.com]Obama's campaign also said that the government should "bring (Internet gaming) under regulatory control to stop the worst abuses" -- that is, make it legal.
Gambling is obviously not one of the hot button issues in the presidential campaign, so it's interesting to get this rare look at where the two Democratic front-runners stand. Since the Republicans are concentrating their efforts in South Carolina (except for the Mittster, who has ditched SC for Nevada, where Mormons are looked upon far more favorably), we haven't gotten much insight into their views. We can obviously assume however that Mike Huckabee considers it sacreligious. John McCain introduced a bill in 2000 to outlaw gambling on college sports (a bill which was co-sponsored by John Edwards); though McCain has been spotted shooting craps in Las Vegas. Since Romney tells people whatever they want to hear, I suppose he's amenable to gambling for the next 24 hours anyway. That will likely change once he gets back to the South.