Gambling opponent:Halt casino expansion - Friday 14th of October 2005

Connecticut anti-gambling advocate Jeff Benedict led a national coalition Friday in calling for a two-year moratorium on new tribal casinos built off reservation land.

"This is a historic moment," Benedict of East Lyme said during a news conference that marked the first time anti-gambling advocates from 25 states have come together under the umbrella of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.

The group, which includes Benedicts Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion, called for President Bush to direct Interior Secretary Gale Norton to put a hold on applications by tribes seeking to acquire land away from reservations to build casinos.

The practice, called "reservation shopping" by detractors, is behind attempts to build Indian casinos near larger cities, including Denver, Chicago and Portland.

It has prompted congressional hearings this year, as well as calls to tighten the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Indian gambling continues to grow rapidly, with 224 tribes operating 400 gaming facilities in 28 states, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

These operations brought in nearly $19 billion in 2004, a 73 percent increase over 2000. They account for 550,000 jobs and generate $7.4 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

Fridays news conference is part of a three-day national meeting that includes congressional lobbying, a speech by gambling opponent Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and presentations by experts on all aspects of the fast-growing industry.

"This has happened so rapidly that many experts still havent figured out just how lethal this product is," Benedict said. "It generates things like divorce, like suicide. It ravages family finances."

One of the gambling opponents attending this weekends conference offered an example.

Ronda Hatefi of Eugene, Ore., said her brother, Bobby Hafemann, became addicted to video poker and piled up $30,000 in credit card debt. She said he sold rings, stereo equipment and even clothes to feed his habit. On July 29, 1995, at age 28, Hafemann killed himself.

Benedict, a writer and attorney, became a leader in the anti-gambling movement after his 2000 book, "Without Reservation," questioned the validity of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which operates Foxwoods Resort Casino. Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun, both in southeastern Connecticut, are among the largest casinos in the world.

Benedict likened the gambling industry to the tobacco industry, arguing that Congress can take action or trial lawyers will begin filing class action suits on behalf of people damaged by gambling.

"This stuff is a prime target. Its huge," Benedict said.

Opponents count about 50 instances where tribes have built casinos outside reservations, with many more proposals pending.

But Mark Van Norman, executive director of the Indian Gaming Association, said there are only three cases in which tribes built casinos far outside reservations. In each case, he said, the casino proposal survived a difficult federal review and received a governors approval.

"So its not as if the barn door is off the hinges," said Van Norman, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

Others, he said, involve casinos built on land adjacent to reservations, an exception allowed by federal law, and cases where newly recognized tribes are acquiring land for the first time.

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