Testimony of Les Bernal

Testimony of Les Bernal

Les Bernal


Testimony of Les Bernal, the National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade of the U.S. Congress

Subject: Gambling

More by: Les Bernal

As you consider internet gambling, I ask you to imagine yourself sitting down with your kids, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews in front of a video game and encouraging them to put their money into it, to play it over and over again. But you knew they could never win . . . yet you kept encouraging them to do it.

You would never to do that.

But for the last 40 years in American life, that's exactly what government has been doing by sponsoring and promoting casinos and state lotteries. The more citizens put their money into these games, the more money they're going to keep losing. Government, in this case, is not merely permitting private, consensual behavior. This is a public policy, a government program that actively sponsors gambling and promotes it by granting monopolies and awarding regulatory advantages to favored firms.

Government-sponsored gambling is a public policy that's failed.

It's failed because it has transformed gambling from a private and local activity into the public voice of American government, such that ever-increasing appeals to gamble, and ever-expanding opportunities to gamble, now constitute the main ways that our government communicates with us on a daily basis.

Government sponsored gambling has also failed to deliver on its promises to fund education, lower taxes, or pay for needed public services. Just look at the evidence from your own states.

Most importantly of all, government-sponsored gambling has failed because it has contributed to patterns of inequality in America, increasing the divide in our country between the haves and have-nots

Many forces currently contributing to the rise of inequality, such as globalization and technological change, cannot be directly controlled by public policy. But government-sponsored gambling is a public policy – and it exists only because policy makers want it to exist.

Whether it is internet gambling or other forms of government-sponsored gambling, this is a public policy that's based on cheating and exploiting citizens. The best example is slot machines. The machine is mathematically designed so that you will lose your money the longer you play it. In brick and mortar casinos, 75 percent of their profits are coming from slot machines. The big money is internet gambling is online slots which make up 65-80 percent of all gambling traffic.

There are countless stories about how government sponsored slots are cheating and exploiting citizens but I'll share just one:

In 2004 New York Times reporter Gary Rivlin toured the headquarters of International Gaming Technology (IGT), America's biggest maker of electronic slot machines, and who today has designed a leading platform for internet gambling. Rivlin tells the story of his visit to the IGT building: "Most of the people I met inside I.G.T. told me they never played slot machines on their own time. Even one corporate P.R. staff member couldn't resist shaking her head in disbelief as she described scenes of people lining up to play a new machine. "It was unbelievable to me," she told me. When I asked one I.G.T. artist if he ever plays, he acted as if I had insulted him. "Slots are for losers," he spat, and then, coming to his senses, begged me to consider that an off-the-record comment."

Slots are for losers, he said. Many of these losers are your constituents.

In government's partnership with gambling there is one kind of loser who is the most lucrative of all: the Problem Gambler. We refer to these people as The Expendable Americans.

Gambling operators spend millions of dollars on public relations and research to create the public impression they're not exploiting citizens. Despite all of this money, there are two questions they never answer. Maybe we'll get answer at this hearing today.

First, how Much Gambling Revenue Comes from Problem Gamblers?

And second, what percentage of gambling revenue comes from people who follow "responsible gambling codes of conduct?"

On the last page of my written testimony are 11 different independent studies that show 40%-60% of profits come from problem gamblers. The list of studies was compiled as part of a recent report titled "Why Casinos Matter" published by The Institute for American Values. And how much gambling revenue comes from people who follow "responsible gambling codes of conduct?" They contribute a mere 4 percent of gambling profits.

Government's partnership with gambling has failed. The evidence is all around us that it's been a failed experiment and sponsoring internet gambling would be the biggest failure of them all. Just like we wouldn't encourage our own kids or grandchildren to put their money into a video game they could never win, it's time our government stopped cheating and exploiting our own citizens by sponsoring gambling.


Institute for American Values, 420 Lexington Avenue, Room 1706, New York, NY 10170