VOL. 110 | NO. 121 | Thursday, June 20, 1996
Casino gambling in Mississippi is changing the economic landscape in Mississippi, Tunica County, and their neighbors. But behind the boom is the potential for altering the political landscape as well.
Casino donations enter political arena
By JAMES SNYDER
The Daily News
Casino gambling in Mississippi is changing the economic landscape of Mississippi, Tunica County and their neighbors. But behind the boom is the changing landscape of politics as well.
According to Common Cause, a Washington, D.C. advocacy group, interests gave a total $457,647 in "soft money" nationally during the 1991-92 election cycle. Soft money is given directly to party organizations instead of individual candidates. The Democrats received $336,804 of that money, and the Republicans received $120,843.
By the 1993-94 mid-term cycle, the amount of money contributed had increased to more than $1.6 million to both parties, with the Republicans receiving $933,360 and the Democrats receiving $708,869.
Gaming companies make donations through a variety of sources. Sometimes the companies themselves make the contributions. Others funnel money through political action committees (PACs) associated with the companies.
Sometimes the company chief makes donations in his name, as did Ballys chief executive officer Arthur Goldberg, owner of Ballys Casino in Tunica, who made more than $110,000 in donations between 1991 and 1995 to mostly Democratic candidates, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The list doesnt end there. The Corporate Citizenship Committee, a PAC affiliated with ITT Corp., which owns the Sheraton Casino, spent $101,300 on mostly Republican candidates in 1991-92. In 1993-94, ITT Corp. spent $56,000 on mostly Democratic candidates. The corporation already has spent $12,500 on this years races.
The Boyd Gaming Corp., which own Sams Town, donated $22,000 to mostly Democratic candidates in 1993-94 through its PAC, and in 1993-94 spent $11,500 on mostly Republican candidates.
The number of gaming interests and money spent are both up, according to Rubin Silvers, director of campaign finance research for Common Cause. And the gaming interests are good at picking allies on both sides of the aisle, rarely discriminating along purely partisan lines, he said.
Although gaming companies, like many industries, spend money on political campaigns to influence policy that affects their business, political contributions are especially important to gaming interests, because changes in laws affect the industry more proportionately than any other business, said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
In the past few years, gaming has grown from a $10 billion business to a $45 billion business. Eadington estimates half of that growth came as a direct result of changes in the laws affecting gaming.
As a result, "theyre buying interest in a very traditional American way," Eadington said.
Gaming money has grown proportionately at the state level, where decisions to legalize gambling take place. Targeted states include Arkansas, Louisiana and California.
Increased activity has led to increased conflicts of interest. A California state GOP official has been accused of trying to bribe to a state assemblyman on behalf of gaming businessmen. In Mississippi, Gov. Kirk Fordice, who publicly opposes legalized gambling, recently came under fire for receiving $700,000 from gaming interests.
But gaming contributions at the federal level have become more active as Congress considers a bill to establish a two-year national commission to study the industry, its impacts and its consequences.
An opponent of the commission, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), received a $10,000 donation this election cycle from the Boyd Gaming PAC and $10,000 from Harrahs Entertainment Inc. Employees PAC, affiliated with the Promus Cos. Inc., according to FEC records.
Reid received nothing from those gaming PACs during the 1993-94 election cycle and a total of $1,500 from Promus and $8,000 from Ballys in 1991-92.
But as Silvers noted, politics creates strange bedfellows. According to FEC records, two main supporters of the commission bill have received gaming PAC money in the recent past.
One is Senate bill sponsor Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who received $1,000 from ITTs PAC in 1993-94. Lugars office said ITTs donations and other contributions were diluted by the vast interests of the large holding company, and that the money did not affect his decision about the bill.
The other supporter, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), is the principal sponsor of the House bill, which includes a provision to study political donations by gambling interests. He received $1,500 from ITT between election cycles 1991-92 and 1993-94.
Wolfs press secretary David Whitestone said he couldnt comment on past donations, but "right now, if we know (a contributor) is involved in gambling, we dont take it."
ITT also gave $1,000 to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) during this election cycle. Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, fended off charges last year that he had staged a "rigged" committee hearing on the commission bill when a bipartisan group of commission advocates dominated the hearing.
"Theyve definitely found a safe bet here in political giving," Silvers said of the gaming interests. "They seem very adept at playing both sides, giving equally to both parties. You cant lose when you do that."