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Congress should reject H.R. 1619’s dangerous anywhere, any place casino precedent

Who wants casinos placed squarely in their backyards — ones that are still the subject of ongoing litigation and are looked upon unfavorably by their state and local governments?

While no one would answer yes to this question, the House of Representatives’ Nov. 1 passage of H.R. 1619 — the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, a bill that would have been more aptly titled The Anywhere, Any Place Casino Act — could soon make this hypothetical a dangerous reality.

H.R. 1619, which the Senate recently added for consideration to the National Defense Authorization Act as an amendment, is a special interests’ special interest bill. If passed, it would represent the first time Congress ever approved an off-reservation casino.

For the last 30 years since the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act was passed, states, city governments, and the Department of Interior have been the bodies to make decisions around the siting of tribal casinos — not Congress — with the courts intervening to adjudicate disputes.

To the dismay of many casino moguls, most communities in the country strongly oppose casinos in their backyards. One key reason is that casinos inflict severe financial and social damage not only upon gamblers and their families but upon the community as a whole. That’s because casinos prey on desperation, not hope, and it metastasizes across a region.

A highly cited report by Georgia State University found that roughly one-half of problem gamblers commit a crime, while the Department of Justice has found that one-third of addicted gamblers get arrested for crime. Other studies have found that families where a parent gambles compulsively are more likely to experience domestic violence

Localities should have every political and legal right to challenge casinos that developers plan to put in their neighborhoods; however, the sponsors of H.R. 1619 have their own agenda. Their bill serves the powerful gambling interests behind a South Carolina Native American tribe to force a casino into a neighboring state in North Carolina, against the people’s will, before an ongoing court battle settles the legality of the move. And that is just the short-term implication of the legislation.

The more concerning effect of passing H.R. 1619 is that casino developers could ultimately dictate gambling policy to the rest of the country. It’s like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. All casino moguls would need to do to impose their will on localities throughout the nation is partner with an allied member of Congress to circumvent the courts and local governments. That would not take much effort because commercialized gambling companies are already some of the most well-connected to the legislative branch in the country, consistently feeding over $50 million in annual federal campaign donations to Congress.

At a time when the American people are already losing more than $225,000 of personal wealth every minute to commercialized gambling, H.R. 1619 is a radical and dangerous proposal that would make the problem of wealth inequality dramatically worse. It would redistribute billions of dollars from low-income and middle-income families to the wealthy financial interests within the casino industry.

In a Nov. 2 coalition letter organized by the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles to Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Vice Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and the rest of the U.S. Senate, Stop Predatory Gambling joined 20 other religious, family values, and states’ rights-minded advocacy organizations in making this point clear. The coalition wrote that “the rule of law and the careful checks and balances that come with it should never be traded in for the conveniences of political expediency” and asked that they “stand for federalism, fairness, and the independent judiciary and put the welfare of localities and the families living within them first by dismissing this bill.”

H.R. 1619 is a naked money grab. The U.S. Senate needs to shut it down because people are worth more than money.

Les Bernal is the National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling.

Tags Brian Schatz Casinos Gambling Gaming Lisa Murkowski Problem gambling

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