Wednesday, May 12, 1999 | 11:22 a.m.
A war of words has erupted between Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and the leading anti-gaming member of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission as the panel scurries to file its report next month.
The conflict developed after Gibbons received a letter Tuesday from the gaming critic, Commissioner James Dobson, complaining that the congressman and his pro-gaming allies were making light of social and economic fallout problem gamblers face in their lives.
"Lest the debate get lost in facts and figures, we must remember that the depth of pain and devastation felt by many of these individuals and their families is profound," Dobson wrote.
At one point, Dobson, president of the Colorado-based Focus on the Family organization, accused Gibbons and "others" of trying to "minimize the pain and misery caused by gambling addiction."
Gibbons, a frequent critic of the work of the nine-member Impact Study Commission, which also includes pro-gaming members, issued a statement late Tuesday blasting Dobson, a leader in the religious right.
"Dr. Dobson refuses to acknowledge the important and responsible actions taken by the State of Nevada, local governments and the gaming industry to establish programs to address the issue of problem gambling," Gibbons said.
"In his trip to Nevada last year, Dr. Dobson was thoroughly briefed on these programs, but he continues to attack Nevada's top job-producer by painting an unfair and biased view of the gaming industry."
Gibbons added: "From day one, Dr. Dobson has used his position on the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to pursue a political crusade against the highly successful casino-entertainment industry. On the other hand, the American Gaming Association and other industry advocates have presented numerous accurate facts and figures on the positive social and economic impacts of America's gaming industry."
Dobson said in his letter that he was responding to a March 24 "Dear Colleague" letter Gibbons had circulated on Capitol Hill. That letter, Dobson said, was passed along to him by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a staunch gaming critic who co-authored legislation creating the gambling commission.
In the Dear Colleague letter, Gibbons said new research done by the commission bolstered the economic benefits of gaming while "debunking myths about the extent of gaming's social costs."
Gibbons said: "This independent research confirms that all but a very small percentage of those who engage in legal gaming do so for fun and recreation without serious adverse consequences."
But Dobson provided Gibbons with his own statistics that show problem gambling is on the rise in America.
"As the release of our commission's final report draws near, it is imperative that gambling advocates not whitewash the serious problems related to gambling," Dobson wrote.
"It is vitally important that Americans learn the complete truth about the devastating consequences of gambling and gambling addiction."
The federal commission has been marred by renewed infighting between its pro and anti-gaming members, as it struggles to complete its report to Congress and President Clinton by June 18.
Several commissioners, unhappy with the staff's work product so far, have threatened to file minority reports.
Congress gave the panel $5 million to study the social and economic impact of the spread of gambling across the country the past two years.
The commission meets again in Washington next week to discuss the latest draft of its final report.