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Casinos Paid Politicians Big Bucks to Keep Gambling on College Sports Legal

March 15, 2001

Casinos Paid Politicians Big Bucks to Keep
Gambling on College Sports Legal

Bill Bradley, Gary Bauer Endorse Public Citizen?s Investigation; Report Reinforces Need for McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A direct link exists between large soft money contributions the casino industry gave both major political parties last year and efforts by party leaders in Congress to stop an overwhelmingly popular bill that would have extended the federal ban on gambling on college sports to Nevada, a Public Citizen investigation shows.

Public Citizen released its report, called Folding to the Casino Industry, on the first day of NCAA March Madness and on the eve of a historic U.S. Senate debate on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. The bill would ban “soft money,” those unlimited contributions to political parties from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.

“The casino industry?s success in keeping college gambling legal is some of the most transparent and shameless influence-buying that we have ever seen,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen?s president. “It?s exhibit A in the case explaining why Congress should pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill to ban such legalized bribery.”

Liberal Bill Bradley and conservative Gary Bauer, presidential candidates in 2000, both endorsed Public Citizen?s report and called for campaign finance reform.

“Public Citizen has performed a remarkable service by digging into the interaction between political money and gambling on college sports,” Bradley said. “I don’t think college athletics should be the equivalent of roulette chips. Most Americans agree. This report is a good reason for those who care about college sports to support campaign finance reform.”

Said Bauer, “This report is a must-read for every person who has wondered where the gambling industry money is going and what happens to public policy when it gets there.” Bauer called the report “riveting and profoundly sad” because “it shows that our political system has been infected by an industry that leaves broken lives in its wake.”

Debate on the McCain-Feingold Bill (S. 27) is set to begin in the U.S. Senate on March 19. The bill had majority support in the Senate last Congress but was blocked by a Republican-led filibuster. Twice the House has passed companion legislation ? the Shays-Meehan bill (H.R. 380).

A 1999 study showed that one in 20 college players had either shaved points, wagered on their own games or leaked insider information about players to gamblers.

Gambling on college sports is legal only in Nevada due to a loophole in federal law. Friends and foes agree that legislation to close the loophole would pass both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly if it was ever brought to the floor ? which party leaders, eager for the casino industry?s soft money, made sure never happened in 2000. The report shows that:

  • Republican and Democratic Party committees received $3.9 million in soft money ($2.3 million to Republicans and $1.6 million to Democrats) from the Nevada casino industry for the 2000 election. Nevada casino interests gave the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee eight times more soft money than in 1996. The National Republican Congressional Committee collected almost four times more than in 1996. The parties? Senate fundraising committees both saw threefold increases.
  • As this anti-gambling legislation became the casino industry?s top concern in Congress, industry leaders reportedly encouraged the congressional party leaders to compete for soft money by blocking the bill. Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), vigorously competed to raise casino soft money. Republican leaders blocked the bill from being voted on, and Democrats were compliant in opposing it.
  • Davis, the chief House Republican fundraiser, said the bill wouldn?t pass because, “If we do it, we are going to expose our guys to a barrage of casino dollars. . . . we?ve been told point blank that they are going to open the spigots [to the Democrats].”
  • Chief Senate Republican fundraiser McConnell reportedly told senators the gambling lobby would allocate a $1 million-dollar “kitty” to congressional committees depending on what the parties did on the college gambling bill.
  • Gephardt and Rangel, the top Democrat on the House tax-writing committee, spent years cultivating the casino industry. Gephardt pronounced the college gambling bill dead at the same time as the House Republican leadership. Rangel is co-sponsoring legislation promoted by the casino industry, also supported by Gephardt, that is designed to kill the college gambling bill.

“This report documents the lengths that both parties go to outbid each other for special interest support,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen?s Congress Watch. “As March Madness begins, the public deserves to know the sort of ?games? the casino industry is playing. After all, these aren?t $5 and $10 dollar chips in their pockets. These are our senators and representatives.”