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Gambling panel hears testimonials for and against legal wagering

August 20, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Atlantic City’s casinos gave Cyril Cornelius a job, and he’s forever grateful.

Kim Roman blames Las Vegas’ casinos for wrecking her family by playing on her father’s weakness for wagering, and now she is an anti-gambling advocate in Maryland.

Their testimonials came during Wednesday’s meeting of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Congress created the panel to examine legalized gambling’s social and economic impact during its growth over the past two decades into a $500 billion-a-year business.

Gambling’s opponents and supporters have invested a great deal of time and money to show either that gambling’s social costs are too high, or that legal wagering provides jobs and investment.

Both sides fought so hard to get their witnesses on a 40-person witness list that commission chairwoman Kay James accused some of ``whining about lack of access.″

James said afterward she thought both sides got a fair hearing. About 60 percent of the witnesses opposed gambling.

``It’s good to put a face on it,″ James said. ``And we saw the face from both perspectives today.″

From Cornelius’ perspective, the introduction of casinos to Atlantic City rescued him from unemployment 18 years ago.

``Before the opening of the casinos, I worked in factories for low wages, including a job as a presser in a clothing factory. Most of these factories closed down, including mine,″ said Cornelius, 56, of Atlantic City. ``There was not an industry left in Atlantic City to work in.″

Harrah’s Atlantic City casino hired Cornelius as a security officer, and now he makes $12 an hour. He said his wages have helped him buy a home and car and support his wife and retarded sister.

From Roman’s perspective, the family’s move to Las Vegas for her mother’s health cost her family its home because of her father’s gambling problem.

She told commissioners her hard-luck story and others like it should not be discounted as isolated accounts.

``Please don’t dismiss anecdotal evidence,″ said Roman, an activist with an anti-casino group in Anne Arundel County, Md. ``Each of these anecdotes has friends and family that it affects.″

Roman and other gambling opponents compared gambling’s history to that of tobacco. Bernie Horn, communications director for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, suggested both industries have targeted their customers’ addictions for profit.

The nine-member commission meets next in October to finalize plans for site visits. Several members leaned toward Atlantic City for their first meeting outside Washington in November.

Several commissioners expressed frustration about the pace of the panel since its first meeting in June, and its problems agreeing to even a basic operation. James and other panel members say they are limited by a $5 million budget and two-year deadline to complete a report on a broad agenda.

The job is complicated by the panel’s diversity of interest, from MGM Grand Casino chairman J. Terrance Lanni to James Dobson, president of the Christian group Focus on the Family.

``We have a long way to go to have an easy working relationship as a group,″ said Commissioner Richard Leone.

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