Congress should investigate gambling industry attempts to market its business to children, including the use of slot machines with juvenile themes, a diverse coalition has written in a letter to both Senate and House of Representatives leaders.
Among the twenty-one signers of the letter were Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and four members of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, including Focus on the Family President James Dobson.
In its letter, the coalition of conservatives, academics, and consumer advocates cites recent news reports of slot machines with "child-enticing themes," such as Candyland, a board game for young children; the board game Monopoly, and the cartoon and television shows The Pink Panther, The Three Stooges, South Park, The Addams Family, and I Dream of Jeannie.
In light of these reports, the coalition urged Senate and House committees to "investigate, subpoena, review, and publicly release the market research used to develop these child-enticing slot machines, and to review the broader efforts of the casinos and gambling industry to market gambling to children."
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which issued its report in June after two years of research mandated by Congress, found as many as 20 percent of adolescents already may have gambling problems, the letter said. The NGISC also reported a Harvard Medical School study funded by the gambling industry estimated nearly 8 million adolescents are problem or pathological gamblers, according to the letter. People who begin gambling as children are "predisposed to becoming pathological gamblers," it said.
"These child-enticing slot machines are the latest innovation in a broader advertising and marketing campaign by casinos and the gambling industry to promote a 'family friendly' image, and, apparently, to bring children to the casinos, and thereby shape the next generation of gambling addicts," the letter said.
Children should be protected from efforts to seduce them into gambling, the signers said.
The letter was sent Nov. 22 to Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Ernest Hollings, D.-S.C., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as Reps. Tom Bliley, R.-Va., and John Dingell, D.-Mich., the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Commerce.
Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, called the coalition's charges "ridiculous," according to Conservative News Service. He said the South Park slot machines were pulled by the manufacturer before they went to the casinos, CNS reported. He also said some of the other machines, such as I Dream of Jeannie and The Three Stooges, were marketed for older generations, not today's children, according to CNS. Casino operators could lose their licenses if they marketed to minors, he said, CNS reported.
The Candyland machine was rejected for use in Nevada, but it could still be used in casinos in other states, a spokesman for the coalition said. Other machines that have been approved for use in Nevada casinos include Wheel of Fortune and Betty Boop, he said.
In addition to Land and Dobson, other signers included NGISC members Kay James (chairman), Richard Leone, and Leo McCarthy, as well as Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, Don Wildmon, president of the American Family Association; Marshall Meadors, Jr., bishop of The United Methodist Church, Mississippi area; Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert; Velma LaPoint, associate professor at Howard University, and Mark Miller, professor at New York University.