Gary Ruskin's Christmas Present

Right Joins Naderite in Dicey Situation

Predictably, the American Gaming Association isn't happy with this turn of events. Last week, AGA chief (and longtime Republican power broker) Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. depicted the "slots for tots" situation as much ado about nothing. At a tourism conference on December 14, however, he sounded positively besieged, saying it was an example of how "the enemies of gaming have been firing missiles at us." Indeed, last week he characterized the coalition's letter as "a Scud" launched by the preachy religious right.

"That letter to Congress was clearly written by Ron Reno, who works for James Dobson—this is just another case of Dobson and those guys taking shots," Fahrenkopf said. (While Reno contributed a thought or two, it was, in fact, Ruskin who wrote the letter.) "The industry does not design slots to appeal to children. The South Park machine has only been displayed at a trade show. And casino owners suffer such severe consequences if underage kids are gambling." And, he adds, "I have a hard time believing that a child who looks up at a slot machine and sees The Addams Family is suddenly going to be addicted to gambling. One of the machines is I Dream of Jeannie—ask kids today and they have no idea what that was." Clearly, says Fahrenkopf, the intent is to appeal to baby-boomer nostalgia.

While this may be true, say critics, the fact remains that the hallmark of popular culture is recyclability; venerable characters (like The Addams Family) are resurrected on the big screen and marketed to a new generation. And the issue isn't so much the presence of the machines in casinos but in public places. Intriguingly (or perhaps not) the supreme court of South Carolina—a state which has a key primary that John McCain fervently hopes to win—recently issued a decision purging video poker machines from the state's public places. (The ruling nixed the need for a public referendum, which advance polls indicated would be overwhelmingly anti-gambling.) "It may be that he thinks this will play well in South Carolina, given the justifiable uproar about video poker there, and obviously, Senator McCain is trying to make inroads with Christian conservatives, and a number of powerful ones signed this letter," says Ruskin. "But I think that what's most compelling to him is that this is not just Christian conservatives but is a broad coalition. That McCain has taken a fair amount of money from the gambling industry [including from IGT] and has turned around and done this is really to his credit, and to me, it shows a remarkable amount of backbone."

Whether hearings will be held next year is unclear, but that McCain has asked the Federal Trade Commission for investigative assistance indicates he's serious about examining the issue in detail. "For me," says Ruskin, "his letters to IGT and the FTC were a nice Christmas present."

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