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Stephen C. Rose

Stephen C. Rose

Posted: August 18, 2008 09:49 AM

McCain's Mostly Ignored Gambling Problem


Today the Internet is rife with speculation about whether John McCain heard the questions Rick Warren asked Barack Obama. McCain seems to have done predictably well answering the questions, whether he knew them or not. In fact anyone would think the man had a permanent pass. All he does is say how imperfect he is, engage in a Chaplinsque facial self-denigration, and all is well.

Even the polls seem to be with him. Three days tied in Gallup and a boost in Ohio.

This despite evidence that the man is a raving neocon, the admission that he will do what he can to wrest choice from the province of women and his fatuous notion that we can run a government on fumes.

But what most sticks in my craw is the plain proof that the man is close to being a compulsive gambler, certified as such by at least some of our mainstream media, and no one to my knowledge has directly confronted him on the subject.

McCain is a documented craps player. He has been known to play craps on impulse for 14 hours at a stretch.

Of the game of craps, Anthony Holden comments, "We poker players don't call poker gambling. It is a game of skill. Craps is an absurd game of luck. You may have thrilling short term wins but only madmen play craps."

Matthew Yglesias notes, "The McCains own eleven houses and spent over $200,000 on 'household staff' in 2007 so I suppose he can afford tens of thousands of dollars in gambling losses every year. At the same time, you wouldn't want someone to enjoy 'playing against the odds' with the country's public policy. The fact that McCain seems to think there's some kind of 'betting strategy' that can turn craps into a winning game also raises some questions about his math."

How serious is the gambling urge for McCain? What does the love of craps say about his "realism" regarding actual battles and conflicts? Would McCain be willing to gamble with human lives?

Connie Bruck puts it like this:

The moment the car stopped at McCain's hotel in downtown New Orleans, he set out at his usual fast clip for Harrah's, across the street. McCain is an avid gambler. Wes Gullett, a close friend who worked for McCain for years, told me that they used to play craps in Las Vegas in fourteen-hour stints, standing at the tables from 10 a.m. to midnight. 'Craps is addictive,' McCain remarked, and he headed for the fifteen-dollar-minimum-bet tables.

Image of McCain at The Tables

Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf says:

"Over time he (McCain) gave up the drinking bouts, but he never quite kicked the periodic yen for dice. In the past decade, he has played on Mississippi riverboats, on Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the length of the Las Vegas Strip. Back in 2005 he joined a group of journalists at a magazine-industry conference in Puerto Rico, offering betting strategy on request. 'Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John's life,' says John Weaver, McCain's former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. 'Taking a chance, playing against the odds.' Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. 'He never, ever plays on the house,' says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. The goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial. He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.


"Only recently have McCain's aides urged him to pull back from the pastime. In the heat of the G.O.P. primary fight last spring, he announced on a visit to the Vegas Strip that he was going to the casino floor. When his aides stopped him, fearing a public relations disaster, McCain suggested that they ask the casino to take a craps table to a private room, a high-roller privilege McCain had indulged in before. His aides, with alarm bells ringing, refused again, according to two accounts of the discussion.

"He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing," says a Republican who has watched McCain play. 'And he just sort of revels in it.'"


Another Image of McCain Playing Craps -- In Las Vegas.

A survey of McCain's gambling with many links.

Does McCain have a record of wins and losses? If so, should these be shared with the public? McCain has said craps is addictive. Is he craps addict? Has his gambling led to any questionable conflicts of interest?

I have found that mention of McCain's gambling habit is a persuasive argument to people who are on the fence and wondering who to vote for. The association of gambling with the term neocon and observation of McCain's growing synchronicity with Bush positions is generally enough to convince an inquirer. But these days the teflon mantel seems to be moving to McCain. And to my knowledge no one has raised these questions directly.

Yet.