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Leading a crusade against spread of legalized gambling

It's 6:30 Friday morning, and for Dr. David Robertson, the work week is over. But this is no day off. In the dark of the morning, he begins scouring the Internet for the latest tips on gambling.

"I indulged myself by sleeping in," he mused.Brother Robertson has a passion for gambling, or more precisely, a passion against the spread of legalized gambling. As the chairman of a national grassroots coalition, he leads a crusade to educate the public about the problems of gambling and is interested in any tidbit of information that will help others understand.

In less than an hour that morning, Brother Robertson read 42 magazine and newspaper articles detailing the status of gambling activity in the United States, including a report on how the governor of South Carolina, an ardent gambling opponent, presented a state budget without any revenue from electronic gambling.

"Gambling could cause the financial ruin of a country," Brother Robertson said. "In the last 10 years, more money has been spent on gambling than on all other forms of entertainment combined.

"They call themselves the gaming industry. But I call them what they are, the gambling industry. There isn't an industry in the country with the negative consequences of gambling that promotes itself as wholesome, family entertainment. Gambling takes money out of town and leaves a trail of misery and poverty wherever it goes," he said.

To his patients in this western Wyoming town of 10,000 - a town made legendary by its founder Buffalo Bill and his traveling Wild West Show - Brother Robertson has a seemingly unquenchable desire to build the community.

Civic minded, he leads the local chapter of the Rotary Club in its annual Christmas tree mulching project. And during the summer he is the chairman of a road cleanup project.

"He is neither a wallflower nor a radical," described Brian Robertson, his former bishop in the Cody 1st Ward, Cody Wyoming Stake. "But he does work tirelessly behind the scenes, donating time, money and personal effort.

"He is perfect for such an undertaking. He's determined, without being overbearing, and he has a fine family. He has a daughter who will be serving in the Las Vegas mission. His wife, Helen, is his equal, carrying many extra duties to allow him to give so much."

Brother Robertson can't explain why he feels such a fire for this issue. He just does. He knows that "gold cannot be mined from dirt."

This sense of concern prompted Brother Robertson to take a stand when the gambling industry promoted the expansion of legalized gambling in the Wyoming Legislature in the early 1990s.

"For at least six years, representatives of the gambling industry lobbied very hard to pass gambling legislation. When the Legislature rejected their attempts to expand gambling," Brother Robertson said, "the industry altered its course and tried to place the gambling issue on the ballot by securing signatures.

"When they couldn't gather sufficient signatures for the ballot, they hired a California company who paid their recruiters $1.50 for each signature," he said.

"Once they had the signatures, they hired the finest gambling advertising company available and spent $450,000 to raise public support in a state of 439,000 people."

Public opinion polls showed in August 1994 that approximately 57 percent of the voters approved of the gambling initiative.

But Brother Robertson wasn't blinded by the glitter of gambling's bright lights. He knew the truth about gambling and its hidden social ills and began working with organizations to educate the public. They spoke in schools, churches and to neighborhood groups. They related stories and showed statistics.

Several months later, after votes were counted in November, this grassroots group, called Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow, had turned the tide of public sentiment and overwhelmed the gambling initiative by winning with a 69 to 31 percent margin.

Because of his interest, he was invited to a meeting in Memphis, Tenn., in 1994 where he was elected vice chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. In 1996, he was elected chairman of the national organization.

NCALG is not a political organization and does not lobby state legislatures, he explained. "The purpose of NCALG is to gather information and arm the grassroots organizations throughout the country with the material needed to educate people of the problems with gambling."

It's a David and Goliath size battle, but despite the lack of resources, NCALG was effective in stemming the proliferation of gambling legislation in 22 major battles in 1997. By their count, they turned gambling back in 44 of the 46 major issues since 1996.

"My experience is that people care," Brother Robertson said, "and when they know the facts, they see gambling for what it is."

Brother Robertson illustrates the harmful influence of gambling by telling about a woman who lived with her family in Illinois. She had earned a master's degree in finance and managed the family's budget, as well as the home and the couple's two boys.

She became addicted to gambling after riverboat gambling was permitted in the state, and instead of paying the monthly mortgage for six months, used the money to gamble.

One day, facing foreclosure, she took her two sons to school, then went to a parking lot where she committed suicide. Her husband was totally unaware of her addiction or the foreclosure.

"Of all the forms of addictions, gambling has the highest rate of suicide," Brother Robertson said, noting that 20 percent attempt suicide. "And 80 percent of those who attend Gamblers Annonymous have committed crimes to support their habit."

Brother Robertson points to a certain state as a model of what happens to society when gambling is legalized.

"This state had one of the lowest personal bankruptcy rates in the country, as well as a low unemployment rate, until gambling was legalized. The introduction of riverboat gambling more than tripled the problem, causing the percentage of residents who were lifetime problem gamblers to rise from 1.7 percent in 1989 to 5.4 percent in 1995.

"It is now among the highest in bankruptcy rates," Brother Robertson said. "We have seen this demonstrated again and again - the more available legalized gambling becomes, the higher the bankruptcy rate rises.

"Mental health authorities testify that gambling addiction is closely linked to the acceptance of gambling in society. As more people try gambling in its various forms, more of those people prone to the illness are exposed.

"The ABCs of gambling are addiction, bankruptcy, crime," he continued. "It is a step process followed by the gambling industry that gradually softens the market. They know what it takes to keep a gambler hooked. They use sounds, lights and smells. They know how many times a player must win to keep coming back."

It is inevitable, continued Brother Robertson, wherever gambling goes, crime and corruption follow. That is the history of gambling in America.

"On-line, or Internet, gambling poses novel problems in crime. The Internet creates huge opportunities for cheating, especially by virtual casinos, since there is no way to know if virtual dice, roulette or cards are rolled, spun or dealt."

One of the new frontiers of gambling is among teenagers. In fact, compulsive gambling among young people is a growing problem, he said. "Researchers have called gambling the fastest growing teenage addiction, with a rate twice that of adults.

"Because of the anonymity of the Internet, there is no practical way to stop underage gambling. We will likely see more and more kids borrowing, swiping credit cards from parents to gamble on-line."

NCALG functions on a limited budget, Brother Robertson said. "At a time when there was more gambling on the Super Bowl than ever, we have a hard time staffing the phones in the Washington, D.C., office. We pray every month that funds will meet our expenses.

"While it was a foregone conclusion by the gambling industry four years ago that gambling would sweep across the country, now, in 1998, we are seeing the tide roll back, the result of a concerted grassroots effort that has opposed the expansion of gambling into their neighborhoods."

*****

Additional Information

Gambling: Contrary to righteousness

The attitude of taking something from someone else in order to enhance our own position - the essence of gambling - leads us away from the giving path of Christ and toward the taking path of the adversary.

The act of taking or trying to take something from someone else without giving value in return is destructive of spiritual sensitivities.

Gambling tends to corrupt its participants. Its philosophy of something for nothing undermines the virtues of work, industry, thrift and service to others.

From an address given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve during a Devotional at Ricks College, Jan. 6, 1987.