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Election 2012: Candidates Hedge Bets On Gambling Policy

Gambling

First Posted: 01/20/12 04:44 PM ET Updated: 01/20/12 04:44 PM ET

The debate over gambling has taken a backseat in the presidential race, but experts say it is bound to emerge. As the economy sputters, the elected president will likely face intense pressure to give states added power to extract revenue through gambling.

"The president and Congress are going to be faced with proposals both to legalize every form of gambling and also outlaw all the gambling," said I. Nelson Rose, a Whittier College law professor who specializes in gaming issues.

Budget-shackled states are now passing pro-gambling legislation at a more than 50 percent rate for the first time, Rose said. The tide for online poker surged recently when the Department of Justice loosened its stance on Internet gaming for states.

The events are setting off alarms for critics, who say the societal harm will outweigh the profits. "Anyone serious about getting America heading in the right direction has to get government out of the predatory gambling business," said Les Bernal, the executive director of the nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling.

Neither President Obama nor the top contenders in the Republican campaign are tipping their hand as to where they stand, and none of them answered requests for comment. All the more reason to look into their relationships with the gambling industry -- and what they might do next.

Mitt Romney
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As Massachusetts governor, Romney voiced support for slot machine parlors to shrink a $3 billion deficit. He later opposed the slots, explaining that his revitalized state no longer had to suffer gambling's social costs.

Romney told the Las Vegas Sun in November that he would clarify his stance on online gambling before this year's Iowa Caucus, but that did not happen. Analysts say Romney's Mormon faith puts him in a "darned if you do, darned if you don't" position: declare support for gambling and risk offending the church and fellow members, but deny support and risk angering states that need the money.

Experts did not put much stock in Romney's much-ridiculed offer to bet Rick Perry $10,000 on a health care matter. "I can't see Romney supporting gambling. I just can't see it," said Chris Costigan, publisher of Gambling911.com, a site that has tracked legislators' gambling records. Two of Romney's top donors, through PACs and individuals, are Goldman Sachs, which owns the parent company of the Stratosphere hotel-casino in Las Vegas, and Marriott International, which has casinos on some properties. But both also have much broader holdings.

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