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Nation-wide gambling political contributions: a Mother Jones special investigation

June 9, 1997

Mother Jones researchers compiled this unprecedented look at the gambling industry's political donations. Click on any of the highlighted states below to find our number for, and the story behind, that state. Compiling a nation-wide figure for gambling-related political contributions is a difficult task; you'll want to take a look at how we did this investigation.

US imagemap

AL | AK | AR | AZ | CA | CO | CT | DE | FL | GA | HI | ID | IL | IN | IA | KS | KY | LA | ME | MD | MA | MI | MN | MS | MO | MT | NC | ND | NE | NV | NH | NJ | NM | NY | OH | OK | OR | PA | RI | SC | SD | TN | TX | UT | VT | VA | WA | WV | WI | WY

Washington D.C.


State profiles by Keith Hammond


Profitable Payoffs?

by April Lynch

One hundred million dollars. Gambling interests have dropped at least that much cash into state politics all over the country in the last five years, a Mother Jones investigation found. Another $6.4 million went towards federal soft money donations since 1993. That spending by the gaming interests who want all of America to Viva Las Vegas has made the gambling industry one of the biggest political operators in the country.

The money has come from a wide range of gambling interests. Big corporate gambling interests have kicked in much of the money, writing $50,000 checks to at least two state Democratic Party committees last year or creating state PACs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then there are the local developers who would like to join the Vegas leagues -- in Ohio, for example, most of the millions spent on the failed gambling drive came from local wannabe casino kingpins. Indian tribes, trying to protect themselves from casino competitors and government scrutiny, have also jumped on the giving bandwagon. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community's ballot measure committee in Arizona spent more than $3.6 million last year to convince state voters to let them join other tribes in the gaming bonanza.

Most of the money has gone towards buying gambling new room to grow, and until the mid-1990s it looked like the gaming industry could purchase itself access just about anywhere. In 1988, only two states had casinos -- as of this year, 27 states now do. Most of the boom has come in riverboat gambling in the Midwest and Indian casinos all over the country. With that growth has come an avalanche of political money from the gaming world. In California, one card club alone has dropped nearly $2 million in the last five years on contributions and lobbying in the state capitol. In Illinois, gambling interests threw more than $1 million at state officeholders and committees in 1995 and 1996. The Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe, which operates the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, has spent more than $1 million on federal soft money donations since 1993.

Since 1994, though, some of the gambling industry's pricey political bets have gone bust. In a 1994 casino legalization campaign in Florida, casino interests spent $16 million, only to win the voters' landslide rejection. The same fate met gambling backers in Arkansas and Ohio last year, where $6 million and $9 million campaigns choked at the ballot box. In all, gambling was turned back in nine states in 1996.

In Washington D.C., the gaming industry's main concern has been the new National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which will survey the effects of gaming all over the country. Casino execs worry that the commission's findings will make their business look bad and possibly lead to a gambling tax. But if the Mother Jones investigation is any indication, the gaming commission has its work cut out for it as it tries to assess gambling over the next two years.


April Lynch, who conducted the gambling study for Mother Jones, is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.




Web Exclusives:

Heavy Betting
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