Frank Wolf, a 13-term Republican congressman from Virginia, is angry at President Bush, at Republicans in general, and at his fellow mainline Presbyterians. None of them, he charges, is doing enough to combat the proliferation of state-sanctioned gambling in America. As Wolf delivers his speech at the annual conference of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, the 200 or so concerned citizens in the audience murmur their assent.
Outside the Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, rain is pouring in nearly biblical quantities. Inside, Wolf is accusing gambling of "tearing families apart." It's exploiting the poor, he says. Preying on the elderly. Corrupting the young. Unduly influencing elected officials. As he speaks, he punches at the air with his right fist. He's exasperated by President Bush's refusal to place a moratorium on the expansion of Indian gambling. He's disgusted by once-honorable D.C. law firms that proudly list gambling interests among their clients. He can't believe that the casinos destroyed by Hurricane Katrina may qualify for millions of dollars in tax breaks as part of the Bush administration's plan to spur redevelopment on the Gulf Coast.
Wolf isn't telling the people assembled here anything they don't already know, but they hang on his words nonetheless. He's a congressman, after all, and he gets it. He believes, like they believe, that legalized gambling, pushed on the public by cash-starved states, is a major threat to America.
Outside this room, that belief is less common. Nearly a decade ago, Congress funded the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to determine the economic and social consequences of legal gambling, and in 1999, after two years of study, the commission concluded that it was time "to consider a pause in the expansion of gambling." And perhaps for a moment somewhere, such a pause was considered. But only for a moment. Then four more states introduced lotteries, and the number of Indian casinos in the country rose from around 160 to approximately 400. Annual visits to commercial casinos nearly doubled, jumping from 162.4 million in 1999 to 319 million in 2004. Seventeen U.S. casino markets, covering every region of the country, recorded more than $500 million in gross gaming revenues. Today Utah and Hawaii are the only states where no form of gambling is legal.
Perhaps even more significant than the sheer number of gambling outlets is our widespread cultural embrace, or at least acceptance, of the practice. Bookstore chains such as Borders stock glossy gambling magazines with titles like Deal, Bluff, Casino Player, and Strictly Slots. High-stakes poker is a nightly staple on cable TV. If that seems unremarkable, try to imagine an America where, every night on Bravo, you could tune into an hour-long series called Celebrity Gangbang Showdown.
The porn industry's growth during the last few decades has mirrored that of gambling, but porn retains its stigma. Gambling, by contrast, is widely seen as just another recreational opportunity, no more exotic than going to a football game or a rock concert. "What happens here stays here," the popular Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority commercials say. For the last 40 years, however, what happens in Vegas has actually been spreading to every corner of the country.
How exactly did legal, overt, domesticated gambling become a standard feature of Main Street? Today in America, it's actually easier to buy a lottery ticket than a Big Mac: There are more than 185,000 outlets where you can buy the former, only 13,700 that sell the latter. But does this mean the proliferation of legalized gambling has transformed us from productive, hard-working Puritans into incorrigible gluttons of chance? Or are we simply expressing appetites we've had all along?
A Nation of High Rollers
"Now we see," Wolf complains at the Sheraton, "as if our nation isn't saturated enough with gambling, a group of investors this spring has announced plans to try to open a casino two miles from historic Gettysburg." To desecrate such hallowed ground, Wolf implies, isn't just a lapse of good taste; it's a blight on our national honor.
Alas, in trying to protect history from gambling, you also have to protect history from history. As any contemporary gambling booster will tell you, Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was underwritten by a lottery conducted in London by the Virginia Company. That trend continued as the New World moved toward nationhood. With all 13 colonies establishing lotteries at one time or another, government-approved gambling was one of the original features of the landscape.
In the 1700s, newspapers regularly published the odds on local cockfighting matches. Harvard and other institutions of higher learning used lotteries to finance construction projects, as did numerous churches. Ben Franklin helped organize a lottery in 1746, and George Washington was—according to George Sullivan's 1972 history of lotteries, By Chance a Winner—a "frequent ticket buyer" who won land in one raffle, five pounds in a 1763 lottery, and 16 pounds in a 1766 drawing. Nearly three decades later, he was still playing: In 1793, when the District of Columbia sold 50,000 lottery tickets at $7 apiece to raise funds for federal buildings, Washington purchased tickets for himself and his friends.
Americans' enthusiasm for gambling didn't ebb in the 19th century. According to Henry Chafetz's 1960 book Play the Devil, combatants on both sides of the Civil War "were addicted to faro, poker, casino, euchre, monte, seven-up, and chuck-a-luck." Other accounts describe bored soldiers betting even on lice races. So Wolf and others who decry the Gettysburg casino effort are correct when they suggest that such a project would undermine the location's historic atmosphere: The developers have plans for 5,000 slot machines but have expressed no interest whatsoever in betting opportunities involving insects.
Of course, it's not just aspiring casino developers who are part of a long American tradition; gambling opponents are too. For almost 400 years, prudent, risk-averse critics have been predicting a gambling-induced meltdown. In 1624 the Virginia Assembly made it illegal for ministers to play dice or cards. In 1834, when most states permitted legal lotteries, reformers in Philadelphia branded the local manifestation a "poisonous exotic, whose noxious and rank luxuriance is pervading the land and blighting all our indigenous fruits, showing itself to be wholly unsuited and repugnant to the genius of American soil."
Some crooked operators actually lived up to such rhetoric. In one notable case, a lottery authorized by Massachusetts to pay for repairs to Plymouth Beach hadn't declared a winner after nine years of play. But corruption wasn't the only factor in efforts to eliminate the lottery. Social reform in general was in vogue, and ending the lottery became one more cause alongside abolition, women's suffrage, and temperance. And as the U.S. economy matured and diversified, mill owners, bankers, and storeowners lobbied for the demise of lotteries in the hopes that citizens would spend their money in a more productive fashion.
During the 1830s, 12 states banned most forms of the lottery. Southern states were slower to do so, and in 1868 Louisiana went against the grain, introducing a lottery to pay for reconstruction costs in the wake of the Civil War. Eventually, this would be the country's only legal lottery, and as such it enjoyed a popularity that extended to every state. But the Louisiana Lottery Company was eventually suppressed, fleeing for more hospitable shores in 1895—when it reinvented itself as the Honduras National Lottery—and folding completely a decade later.
Other forms of legalized gambling weren't faring much better. Progressive reformers aimed to cleanse cities and towns of institutions where "vice" was bred, and along with saloons one of their favorite targets was racetracks. At the turn of the century, the country boasted more than 300 tracks. In less than a decade, new anti-gambling laws reduced their number to 25.
Then the Great Depression prompted some state governments to reassess their prejudice against games of chance. In 1931, hoping to develop new revenue sources, Nevada legalized casino gambling. From 1933 to 1940, 22 states legalized racetrack betting. Illegal gambling flourished too, and some of these "underground" operations were as organized and as open as legal ones. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, full-blown Vegas-style casinos operated for decades. They hired entertainers such as Mickey Rooney to perform and attracted millions of visitors a year, even though gambling was officially illegal in Arkansas.
Likewise, church bingo was ostensibly illegal, but that didn't stop it from being the most popular form of gambling in mid-century America. In a 1941 Gallup poll, 24 percent of those surveyed said they regularly played; the total amounts wagered were so substantial that throughout the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s, politicians routinely floated the idea of legalizing bingo or reviving federal and state-sponsored lotteries in order to get a cut of the action. Finally, in 1963, New Hampshire created a statewide sweepstakes. For the first time in almost 70 years, the country would again have at least one legal lottery.
Entering the Mainstream
In one corner of Frank Fahrenkopf's office in downtown Washington, D.C., Old Glory hangs proudly on a six-foot flagpole. In another corner, a muted television set broadcasts Fox News. The walls are hung with pictures of Fahrenkopf posing with his old boss Ronald Reagan and his other old boss George H.W. Bush. As if that weren't benediction enough, there's also a photo of Fahrenkopf meeting Pope John Paul II.
After a stint as one of two conservative students at Berkeley's Boalt Law School during the era of the Free Speech Movement (former Solicitor General Ted Olson was the other), Fahrenkopf began his career as a trial lawyer and eventually moved into politics. From 1983 to 1989, he served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Today he is a co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates and a board member of the International Republican Institute, which he founded in 1984. He's on the board of First Republic Bank and four other corporations.
For the last 12 years, Fahrenkopf also has been the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. In that capacity, he tries to convince federal legislators that what's good for the commercial casino industry is good for America. Needless to say, he's no favorite among anti-gambling activists. They make cutting remarks about his fancy suits and his seven-figure salary. They paint him as a well-connected fat cat whose only concern is how to further enrich himself and his cronies. "Fahrenkopf is the best lobbyist money can buy," says Tom Grey, a Methodist minister and Vietnam vet who has been one of the most prominent voices in the anti-gambling movement during the last 15 years.
Grey and other gambling opponents often position themselves as populist underdogs battling well-heeled institutional elites. In true lawyerly style, Fahrenkopf insists he's really the underdog: "I always say, 'Tom, you're Goliath, I'm David. I only have casinos in 11 states. You have Methodist churches all over the country. You have an army of Methodist ministers that will follow you.'"
It's a clever way to spin the situation, but it doesn't make Fahrenkopf any less of a fat cat. Indeed, pretty much every object in his office—the GOP elephant statue on his desk, his photographic wall of fame, his natty blue and white suspenders—seem selected to project his status as an insider, a man who has been brokering deals at the loci of power for many years.
Other interest groups in the gaming industry have their own trade associations. Tribal casinos are represented by the National Indian Gaming Association. State lotteries are represented by the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. But it's Fahrenkopf who generates the most ire amongst gambling opponents, and that's because he personifies the mainstreaming of gambling. Twenty or 30 years ago, a man of his pedigree with his connections would have thought twice about even doing business with gambling executives. Now he's their official representative. And pretty much everyone in Washington will readily take his calls.
Doesn't he realize it isn't supposed to be like this?
"Gambling is a vice which flourishes only in concealment," New York Tribune founder Horace Greeley editorialized in 1851. "By exposure it dies." That's the moral reformer's traditional perspective on "vice." Custodians of the public good invariably believe that because they find some activity objectionable, those who pursue it must feel the same way too, and thus be ashamed of their passions. Threatened with exposure, they'll choose abstinence instead.
This can be true. The porn industry didn't really take off until it became easier to obtain such wares in a private manner, first through videos and then through the Internet. But with gambling, the reverse has occurred: The more public it got, the more it flourished. As strong a tonic as concealment may have been in Greeley's era—according to an 1851 document prepared by the legendary vice hunter Anthony Comstock, there were more than 6,000 gaming establishments in New York City at the time—it turns out that when you draw back the curtains, advertise gambling via huge neon cowboys, and put a lottery machine in every grocery store, gambling flourishes even more.
According to Fahrenkopf, it was New Hampshire's 1963 decision to resurrect the lottery that really catalyzed a shift in public opinion toward gambling. "If [gambling] is morally wrong, my God, how can government be operating it?" he says, voicing the general sentiment that followed in the wake of New Hampshire's decision.
Not that the public needed much convincing. Today's gambling opponents often suggest that gambling has been pushed upon an unwilling public by revenue-starved politicians and their greedy industry benefactors. But in 1963, the ultimate decision of whether to introduce the sweepstakes was left up to the state's citizens. After the governor signed the bill, voters in every community were asked, in a special election, the following question: "Shall Sweepstakes tickets be sold in this city or town?" According to By Chance a Winner, the Reverend Hartley P. Grandin of the New Hampshire Council of Churches was certain that the state's "God-fearing" citizens would reject "this basically immoral legislation." Instead, more than 93 percent of the state's 200-plus communities voted in favor of the lottery.
An Act of God
One shouldn't underestimate the role the industry itself played in transforming its status from sinful vice to all-American pastime. David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, points out in his 2003 book Suburban Xanadu that Las Vegas succeeded not only because of its reputation as Sin City, an exotic, remote enclave where people could go and behave in ways they wouldn't in the presence of nosy neighbors, but also, and perhaps mostly, because it replicated the home environments of visitors.
One of the city's most influential casinos was El Rancho Vegas, built in 1941 and, in Schwartz's words, designed like "a suburban subdivision rather than existing urban gambling milieus." Located two miles south of the city's downtown, just off the main highway from Los Angeles in the area that would come to be known as the Strip, the El Rancho proved quite attractive to tourists from Southern California; its private bungalows, with their own lawns and kitchens, allowed visitors to "escape from the rigors of suburban life by relaxing in a facsimile of it."
Mobsters also helped pioneer Las Vegas, of course, but under their reign gambling remained a regional, relatively modest phenomenon. They targeted high rollers, not Midwestern grandmas. In 1967 the Nevada legislature made it legal for publicly traded companies to purchase gambling licenses, and the corporatization of the commercial casino industry began. Investment capital grew cheaper and more abundant, and that meant developers were able to add more hotel rooms, build bigger casinos, and introduce more nongambling attractions such as theaters and restaurants. Gambling became a volume business, the city prospered, and soon people in other locales began wondering how legalized gambling might benefit their own states. Lotteries were the first manifestation of that, Atlantic City the second, but ultimately, for gambling to truly become mainstream, an act of God was required.
Enter bingo. Until the early 1970s the game was illegal but tolerated in many states, where authorities weren't eager to crack down on church fundraisers and other philanthropic efforts. Eventually, however, some states started legalizing it so they could regulate it better. Legal bingo was generally a small-stakes affair; in Florida in the 1970s, for example, jackpots were limited to $100, and charitable and civic groups could hold games only two nights a week.
That changed dramatically when the Seminole Indians decided to enter the bingo business in 1979. Because of the tribe's sovereign status, its leaders believed, they wouldn't have to adhere to Florida's bingo regulations. With the help of outside investors and a white-owned management company, the Seminoles opened a 1,200-seat bingo hall in Hollywood, Florida, and offered games seven days a week, with nightly prizes totaling as much as $60,000.
Local law enforcement officials tried to stop the operation, resulting in a series of suits. Each time, the judges ruled in favor of the Seminoles. Had all forms of gambling been illegal in Florida, the outcome would have likely been different, as Florida does maintain criminal jurisdiction over Indian tribes. But since the state permitted bingo under some conditions, the issue was deemed a civil matter, not a criminal one. The Seminoles were allowed to exercise their sovereignty and set their own rules.
In 1987 the U.S. Supreme Court came to a similar conclusion in a case involving a California tribe, the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. Thereafter, tribes realized they could pretty much offer any kind of gambling they wanted as long as the state permitted it under some conditions. If blackjack and roulette were permitted during Vegas-style fundraisers for local civic organizations, Indian tribes could open full-blown casinos. In the years that followed the Cabazon decision, Indian gambling exploded. Today there are 400 tribal casinos in 30 states. California alone has 53.
But you didn't have to claim native heritage to get in on the action. As the tax-free tribal casinos started dotting the landscape, many state legislators started rethinking their stance on casino gambling. Thanks to the example of Las Vegas, craps and roulette were seen not only as a way to generate tax revenues but as engines of economic development that could transform regions blighted by industries in decline. In 1988 South Dakota citizens voted to permit casinos in Wild Bill Hickok's old poker haunt, Deadwood. In 1989 Iowa legislators passed the Excursion Gambling Boat Act, which opened the way for modern riverboat casinos. During the next few years, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Indiana introduced their own versions of riverboat gambling, and Colorado introduced limited-stakes casino gambling in three former mining towns.
In all of those instances, the states weren't just building casinos; they were resurrecting the past, creating Frontierlands for adults in a bid for the tourist trade. In Michigan, however, there was no historical precedent to rationalize the casinos, just an economy suffering from a faltering auto industry. In 1994 voters approved a referendum to allow casinos in Detroit. That same year, Iowa let its racetracks add slot machines to their facilities, thus creating the "racino." (Today, racinos operate in 10 states, and seven more are considering them.) And though it's still a legal gray area, online gambling is booming too, with more than 2,000 sites up and running.
The lottery has evolved too. Playing the original New Hampshire Sweepstakes was about as exciting as getting a driver's license: Tickets cost $3 apiece, they were sold at only three race tracks and 49 liquor stores, and drawings were held just twice a year. And when you purchased a ticket, you had to fill out a form with your address and phone number on it.
But then other states began introducing lotteries. The tickets got cheaper, the drawings more frequent. Next came scratch-off tickets, advertising on TV and radio, multi-state lotteries with bigger jackpots. In some states, you can use credit cards to purchase tickets; others offer subscriptions so you never miss a drawing. In Oregon you can bet on NFL games via the lottery; an increasing number of states use video lottery terminals that simulate slot machines.
What once was quarantined and exotic, limited to those who lived near Las Vegas or could afford to play there, is now commonplace and mundane. The neon glitz of the Strip has migrated to the drab fluorescence of convenience stores and the soft, ever-present glow of PC monitors.
Sin No More
"Not only does gambling dethrone God, but it degrades man," Rev. Robert McIntyre wrote in an early 20th century sermon. Gambling, McIntyre elaborated, turned men into "clammy vipers that crawl in the dank gloom of a sunless canyon." Worse: They become "serfs of Satan." They abandon their wives and children. They disappoint their parents. They turn to robbery and other crimes to finance their addiction but end up bankrupt just the same. The inevitable result of their affliction: "complete moral atrophy."
On most of these points, today's gambling opponents no doubt concur. Rarely, however, do they speak so plainly, or with such mellifluous thunder, about God, sin, or morality. They occasionally employ the m-word when talking about the industry, but as for the gamblers themselves—well, nobody seems to be calling them "serfs of Satan" these days. They're treated with compassion and support, as heroes who've overcome a predatory business determined to destroy them.
Before the anti-gambling conference at the Sheraton, I ask Fahrenkopf's sparring partner Tom Grey about this shift in rhetoric: the tendency to downplay morality in arguments against gambling, the elision of criticism aimed directly at individual gamblers. "My arguments are moral," he replies. "They're about just economics, good uncorrupted government. That's social morality. When you get into personal morality, the person gambling is already getting beat. He doesn't need me to criticize him—he's already losing. Our battle is with the product and the purveyors of the product."
Whatever the rationale, the effect is noteworthy. Most of the conference's organizers are Methodists like Grey, and a majority of attendees are Christians of one sort or another. The litany of woes they ascribe to gambling in their presentations and pamphlets are the same ones McIntyre invoked nearly a century ago—family dissolution, crime, bankruptcy—but they hardly sound like preachers. There are plenty of statistics bandied about during the conference but few Bible verses.
Instead, gambling opponents address the subject in terms of economics and public policy. The gambling industry promotes gambling as a force that can generate jobs, increase tax revenues, and rev up related industries such as dining and lodging. In turn, the industry's opponents claim the costs of gambling far outweigh any benefits.
Naturally, both sides have compiled statistics that bolster their cases, and each side says the other is lying. One thing seems fairly evident, though: If the gambling industry really is having a devastating impact on American culture, the general public seems fairly oblivious to it. In a Gallup Lifestyle Poll released in March 2004, for example, only 6 percent of those surveyed said gambling had been "a source of problems for their families." In contrast, a similar Gallup poll released a year earlier found that 31 percent of those surveyed said that alcohol had been a source of problems for their families.
Even among social conservatives who are avowedly concerned about gambling, it's not a big concern. James Dobson's group, Focus on the Family, employs an "analyst for gambling research," Chad Hills, but when I ask him where anti-gambling activism fits into the priorities of his organization as a whole, he says, "It's definitely one of our top 10 issues. But not necessarily up there in the top five, that's for sure. I would say that gambling falls within the 5-to-7 range."
John Kindt, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois who writes frequently about gambling, says it will take a "casino Katrina"—the economic crash of an entire city or region that has made gambling a cornerstone of its local economy—to awaken people to the perils of gambling. "It's going to happen," he insists, "and it's actually going to end up costing a lot more than Katrina did." But Kindt and others have been making such dire predictions for some time now. And so far, while gambling has surely ruined myriad lives, there's no casino Katrina they can point to.
In his 1996 book The Luck Business, the influential gambling opponent Robert Goodman painted a sad picture of the Illinois town of Joliet, which was hoping to benefit from riverboat gambling that was introduced in 1992. By 1996 only one new downtown business had opened—"a small takeout coffee shop"—and there was no new hotel or influx of tourists. The city's effort to revitalize itself via gambling, Goodman suggested, was a terrible flop.
Ten years later, Joliet's situation seems much brighter. Now the downtown area boasts a minor league baseball park and a new NASCAR racetrack. The casinos have provided hundreds of local jobs, and the tax revenue they generate has helped Joliet improve its streets, sewers, lights, and sidewalks, and fund local schools. Joliet is the fastest-growing city east of the Rocky Mountains, and dozens of new restaurants and bars have opened there in the last decade, including four in the spring of 2004. According to 2004 FBI statistics, Joliet suffers fewer murders, robberies, burglaries, and assaults than Salt Lake City.
Which is not to say that gambling is the can't-miss miracle cure-all its boosters often claim it is, or that it doesn't introduce problems and headaches of its own. But what industry doesn't? According to a brochure distributed by the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, "It takes three to five years for gamblers in a newly opened market to exhaust their resources. When addiction ripens in the market, so do the social costs." Las Vegas and Reno have had gambling for more than 70 years now, Atlantic City for 30. Many cities in the riverboat states and Colorado have featured gambling for more than a decade. And they're all still standing.
Meanwhile, all across America, you can point to cities that built their economies around more traditional industries—cities that pursued the Puritan ethic of hard work, the production of tangible goods—only to suffer "manufacturing Katrinas" and "farming Katrinas." As any church that's found financial salvation through bingo knows, God works in mysterious ways.
The Gambling Vote
Last fall conservative activists in Iowa appeared to have some success in making Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney see things their way. For some time now, state Senate President Robert Travaglini (D-Boston) has been trying to pass legislation that would allow the state's four racetracks to add slot machines. Stacey Cargill, the leader of an anti-gambling coalition in Iowa and also a local Republican power broker, saw an opportunity to send a message to Romney. "If Mitt Romney is going to engage in incorporating casino slots as a form of economic development for the state of Massachusetts, we will spread the word and ask the state of Iowa to vote for another candidate in the caucuses," Cargill told The Boston Globe.
Fahrenkopf dismisses such threats. "If I were Mitt Romney, I'd say, 'Wait a minute, the people of Iowa voted for gaming,'?" he says. "And every eight years in those counties that opted for gaming, it has to come back to the polls again. Two years ago, 11 counties had to vote again. And all 11 counties voted to keep it."
In the past, Romney had been relatively open to the idea of expanding gambling in the interest of generating more tax revenues for Massachusetts. But just 10 days after Cargill publicized her plan, Romney wrote a letter to The Boston Globe declaring, "If someone would bring forth a gambling expansion proposal, it is not something I would support, given our economic circumstances and the social costs associated with gambling."
The Abramoff Factor
>And then, of course, there's Jack Abramoff. Based on results if not intentions, the crooked lobbyist was actually a fairly effective anti-gambling operative. His first achievement: teaming up with fellow lobbyist Michael Scanlon and charging six Indian tribes an astonishing $82 million for three years of extremely part-time work, thereby draining them of funds they might have used more effectively to promote their gaming operations. His second achievement: using Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, to enlist Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and other conservative activists to oppose gambling expansion in various Southern states. Sure, Abramoff was simply trying to protect his gaming tribe clients from increased competition—a fact the conservative activists insist they didn't know—but that doesn't mean he didn't help stop gaming expansion.
Even so, gambling opponents are casting Abramoff as the enemy and trying to parlay the general stink surrounding him into legislative action. "If the nation's politicians don't fix this national disaster [of legalized gambling], then the oceans of gambling money with which Jack Abramoff tried to buy influence on Capitol Hill will only be the beginning of the corruption we'll see," Dobson declared in a January press release, carefully overlooking his own involvement in Abramoff's efforts. "We need courageous office holders who will begin the process of shutting down lotteries, casinos and other gambling outlets."
Don't expect the intramural finger-pointing to end anytime soon. "There's a fissure between corporate conservatives and social conservatives—and gambling is that fissure," Grey exclaims. "You've got Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, and [Americans for Tax Reform President] Grover Norquist at the feeding trough, taking money from gambling. On the other hand, you've got James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly—social conservatives who oppose gambling. Once this issue becomes more visible nationally, people are going to start wondering, 'Where do the Republicans stand?' This business is being driven by politicians and promoters in backrooms for their own enrichment. I've never met a grassroots movement that wants more gambling."
It's true. All across America, there are tiny, underfunded groups of citizens who've come together to battle proposed Indian casinos or to protest the addition of slot machines at the local racetrack. But grassroots groups that want more gambling? There are none. Unless, of course, you count the thousands of people who fill Las Vegas' hotel rooms every night. Or the millions who watch professional poker games on cable. Or the tens of millions who buy lottery tickets every week.
A grassroots movement for gambling does exist in America, and it has existed for hundreds of years. Its members may not paint signs and organize rallies, but every day, week in and week out, year after year, they perform the most significant political act of all: They vote with their wallets.