Nevada is the latest stop on the presidential electioneering trail, and the positions on gambling taken by the leading Democrat contenders started to get confusing this week as Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama traded opinions on each others' stance on a diversity of issues, usually based on past statements and voting record The Clinton campaign distributed a document to Nevada reporters, headlined, "Obama Blasted Gambling as Socially Destructive and Economically Irresponsible," listing several of his past quotes.
Clinton says that in the past Obama has been critical of the gambling world, saying that it carries moral and social costs that could devastate poor communities. In his tenure as state senator in Illinois, Obama is also said to have opposed proposals to expand gambling for this reason.
It's an astute tactic by Clinton, especially in the US mecca for gambling where debates and presentations are being made by both candidates to sway voters to their side. And when it comes to online gambling, Clinton is reported to have taken the generally safe middle road of supporting an investigation into the pastime and the technologies available to regulate it.
The LA Times opines that Clinton has "….embraced the gambling industry and its executives, and her campaign has used Obama's past statements in an effort to turn casino workers and other Nevada voters against him."
Asked about Obama's stance on gambling by the LA Times, his presidential campaigners sent a list of quotations from the candidate in which he distinguished between Illinois and Nevada when talking about the industry.
In the comments, Obama cast the industry's effect on Nevada in a positive light. For example, he told the Associated Press last month that gambling could be a "successful economic model" as long as it was "properly regulated."
And in a boost for Obama, a federal judge this ruled the Nevada Democratic party can hold caucuses at Las Vegas casinos for workers unable to make it to neighbourhood precincts for Saturday's primary. Obama is courting union workers at casinos.
The differences between the Obama and Clinton approaches could also help shape the outcome of the primary election in California, where the February 5 ballot will carry four high-profile initiatives that could either rescind or allow an expansion of slot machines at Indian casinos. Californians who turn out to vote on those initiatives could be motivated by a candidate's position on gambling when they cast ballots in the presidential contest.
"There's a fundamental question here," said the Rev. Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "Until this point, Obama's statements seemed to suggest that he did not buy into the industry arguments that this is a product like golf or Starbucks that should just go on Main Street. And Hillary, by attacking him, seems to have come down clearly on the side of the industry that this is economic development."
The Clintonites have gone back to 2001 to make their point about Obama's stance on gambling, quoting him as describing himself as "generally skeptical" of gambling as an economic development tool and likening the expansion of slot machines to the state lottery, in which, he said, "you'll have a whole bunch of people who can't afford gambling their money away, yet they're going to do it."
As part of its efforts to publicise those statements, the Clinton campaign has secured the help of top industry players – several of whom participated in a campaign-sponsored conference call with the media last week designed to chastise Obama.
Former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, now a senior executive at Harrah's Entertainment, and Philip Satre, a former Harrah's executive and top industry spokesman, argued on the conference call that gambling had brought jobs and much-needed tax revenue to many communities, including economically challenged places in Obama's home state, such as Joliet, Ill., home to a casino.
They disputed the argument that gambling causes social problems and that those problems disproportionately affect lower-income people. "People are not gambling away their mortgages," Jones said in an interview later, adding that she planned to raise campaign money for Clinton.
Former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, an official in Clinton's campaign and a board member of International Game Technology and Wynn Resorts, says Obama's stance was reason for Nevada voters to choose Clinton. He accused Obama of being critical not just of gaming in Illinois, but gaming as an industry.
"Sen. Clinton, to the contrary, has always been supportive and understanding of our industry," he said, stressing he was not speaking for Wynn Resorts or IGT when talking about the presidential contest.
Satre, a former chairman and chief executive of Harrah's Entertainment, said he too would help raise money for Clinton. Obama, he said in an interview, "doesn't think gambling should expand. He thinks gambling has a moral and social corruption attached to it."
Clinton aides said the New York senator had long supported communities' efforts to lure new casinos to economically struggling places outside New York City, such as upstate New York and the Catskills.
Capitalising on the growing debate, Clinton described the gambling industry as an "economic development tool" in an interview with the LA Times and said that "for many places in the country, it seems to be an important part of what they are trying to do to revive and maintain an economic base."
Clinton likened the potential social costs of gambling to the costs of other industries that pollute or leave toxic dumps, saying that the impact "depends on how well-regulated it is."
But did she really mean it? The newspaper also quotes the Rev.Grey, who heads the coalition against legalised gambling and is also a Methodist minister. He said Clinton's position conflicted with the church's statement of values, which Clinton has cited as a personal moral guide.
He pointed to a quote published last month in the Christian Science Monitor in which Clinton said: "For me, the Social Principles of the Methodist Church have been as much a description of our history as a prod to my future actions."
The Social Principles say: "We call on Christians to abstain from gambling and to be in ministry with persons who are the victims of this societal menace."
Grey said: "It's perplexing to me that she would use the principles and choose to omit the one on gambling." The Clinton campaign did not respond to questions about whether Clinton's stance on gambling conflicted with church policy.
Obama, an avid poker player, developed a reputation in Illinois as a critic of gambling. He voted against a 1999 measure to extend riverboat gambling to include boats stationed at dockside.
But Obama was not dogmatic. In submitting campaign questionnaires in 1998 and 2002 for the anti-gambling group Illinois Churches in Action, he left himself room to back the industry, answering "undecided" on whether he favoured adding riverboat and land-based casinos. On a 2002 questionnaire bearing his signature, the words "not sure" were penciled in as answers to questions about several forms of expansion, such as moving casinos from rivers to land and raising the gambling age to 21.