By Scott Manning
Retired Corrales dentist Guy Clark continues his advocacy work as chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling, and he now focuses on the Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids to restrict the gambling industry from targeting children and teens. Clark became involved in advocacy work against predatory gambling in the 1990s when he was asked to serve as a representative from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG). The coalition transitioned to the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation in 2008. The Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation limits its advocacy work to predatory gambling and does not intend to limit social gambling. The foundation defines predatory gambling as a government-corporation partnership that sanctions commercialized gambling that exploits citizens.
Predatory gambling often involves the marketing of commercialized gambling to the public, and the industry is designed so that the gambling corporation collects the bulk of money gambled. In contrast, social gambling is usually conducted in a small environment without a corporation collecting most of the money spent. Gambling at a dinner party or at a local office event are examples of social gambling. The Stop Predatory Gambling website makes the case against predatory gambling because it claims the industry generates enormous social and economic costs to society. In particular, the website identifies that predatory gambling is an addictive activity that is designed so that the corporation running the gambling operation (the “house”) collects most of the money spent in gambling over the long term, thereby guaranteeing that gamblers lose out. This near guarantee of lost money is often obscured in gambling marketing in which gambling corporations grossly exaggerate the chances of winning. Therefore, citizens gamble in an industry that overwhelmingly consumes private wealth but that misleadingly presents gambling as a viable path to wealth creation.
The Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation argues that the predatory gambling industry consumes private wealth that would be better spent in local businesses and in purchasing assets that build wealth such as property and stock portfolios. Those in favor of government-sanctioned gambling argue that gambling revenues are important for funding government operations. The Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation responds that governments likely spend more on social services and welfare in the long run because predatory gambling generates enormous social costs. According to Clark, predatory gambling is an addictive and self-harming activity that is correlated with suicide, child and spouse abuse, and homelessness. The enormous social and economic costs of predatory gambling make it an ineffective means of generating funding. Predatory gambling has a history in New Mexico. Native tribes have signed gambling compacts with the State of New Mexico, and the native tribes have built casinos. In addition, limited gambling operations have been run at horse racetracks around the state. And despite the social and economic costs of gambling, legislative efforts continue to expand gambling in New Mexico.
This past legislative session, House Bill 101 was submitted that supported the expansion of gambling at racetracks to include slot machines. Historically, slot machines have been limited to tribal casinos. The bill also aimed to allow for online sports betting at the racetracks. Stop Predatory Gambling advocated against the proposed bill. Clark explained that those in favor of adopting the bill argued that expanded gambling at racetracks would help to fund horse racing. Clark countered this reasoning by explaining that horse racing is a struggling industry and should not be supported by predatory gambling. HB 101 did not pass the initial legislative committees. In Clark’s experience, HB 101 served as an initial test to determine community support, and similar legislative efforts will be tried again in the future. Clark contrasts the efforts made to end dog racing with horse racing.
Dog racing and horse racing are both forms of gambling, but the two sports have otherwise had different trajectories. Advocacy groups against dog racing have been highly successful at ending dog racing across the country. Advocacy groups emphasized the animal cruelty to greyhounds in the dog racing industry. Although some efforts have been made to curtail it, horse race gambling remains more common. Clark suggests that there is beginning to be a similar undercurrent of criticism against horse racing, so the industry may change in the coming years. According to Clark, there was significant opposition to the house bill last session. Some tribes, including Sandia and Mescalero, testified against the bill because it would generate more gambling competition.
Notably, other tribes did not testify against the bill. Although he said he is did not testify in oppositon, Clark said it might be that some hoped the legislation would clear the way for expanded online gambling in general. Online gambling is a new iteration of the predatory gambling industry. Online gambling is especially prolific with fantasy sports betting. In this format, participants bet on the outcomes of sports games. The online format, however, has also enabled a more fast-paced version of gambling in which participants bet on sports games in real-time and play-by-play. This new, fast-paced format generates more gambling involvement that contributes to addiction. Clark is especially concerned about how the predatory gambling industry harms young people under the age of 16. Young people are involved with sports, and the online format of predatory gambling makes fantasy sports betting highly accessible. To justify his concerns, Clark points to the United Kingdom as an example of a country that has a more developed online gambling industry than the United States. In the United Kingdom, online gambling has already had an impact on young people: young people have gambling apps on their electronic devices, and online gambling is more common than substance use. The United Kingdom Parliament has already considered legislation that would restrict online predatory gambling.
Clark is now working on the Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids to restrict the gambling industry from targeting and catering to young people. As a minimum, Clark supports the restriction of gambling advertisements in TV, radio, and online media from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. when kids are likely to be active. Clark explains that the kind of legislative restrictions placed on cigarette company advertising serve as a model for the kind of restrictions he supports for regulating the predatory gambling industry. Reflecting on his time as chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling, Clark gives a mixed review of the organization’s success at ending predatory gambling. The organization has consistently engaged in advocacy that has prevented new predatory gambling legislation from becoming law. But Clark admits that the organization has struggled to repeal existing legislation that permits predatory gambling. In effect, gambling legislation that passes the legislatures sets a precedent that is difficult to disrupt or reverse. In fact, successful efforts to restrict gambling such as in South Dakota and South Carolina were done through the judiciary, not through the legislature.
Despite these challenges, Clark believes that predatory gambling will face pressures to change in the coming years. Stop Predatory Gambling and similar efforts enjoy bipartisan support. Clark explains that Stop Predatory Gambling advocacy efforts appeal to conservative concerns over protecting the strength and health of families and progressive concerns over protecting citizens from predatory corporations. In addition, Clark believes that online gambling operations have given a new life to the predatory gambling industry over the short term, but have entailed the destruction of the industry over the long term. As the social and economic costs of online predatory gambling become more apparent, Clark thinks that more advocates will come out against predatory gambling and that public perception will change.