GOP leader says Ashcroft is bad for gaming

Young frustrated man with head in hands at roulette table

A prominent Republican congressman voiced concern in Las Vegas Thursday about the anti-gambling views of Attorney General-nominee John Ashcroft.

New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo, an assistant majority whip who heads the Congressional Gaming Caucus, talked about Ashcroft with the Sun after participating in a panel discussion on casino issues at the American Gaming Summit at the Bellagio hotel-casino.

“When we look at Mr. Ashcroft, and his background and his comments up to this point on gaming, I think, like many of my colleagues (knowledgeable) about gaming, that we are going to be very cautious about which direction Mr. Ashcroft is going to go,” LoBiondo said.

“We will be watching carefully, and we’ll hope that it goes the right way.”

The right way, LoBiondo explained, is Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri, pledging his support at next week’s confirmation hearing for a state’s right to legalize gambling.

“I want to hear how he’s going to answer (that question) in the confirmation process,” LoBiondo said. “Maybe he can give us a level of comfort through the confirmation hearing that we don’t have now.”

At the panel discussion, Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the Washington-based American Gaming Association, said he expected the conservative Ashcroft would be vigorously questioned at his confirmation hearing.

Ashcroft, whose nomination was pushed by the religious right, has run into opposition from a coalition of labor and liberal groups worried about his views on minorities and issues affecting working men and women.

Fahrenkopf, the industry’s lead Washington lobbyist, told casino executives that Ashcroft, has a long record of opposition to gaming.

“I don’t anticipate that Ashcroft, should he be confirmed, will be a friend to the industry,” Fahrenkopf said.

LoBiondo’s comments came amid concerns expressed earlier in the week by John Wilhelm, president of the international Culinary Union, which represents thousands of Las Vegas casino workers.

“I think it’s a very bad nomination from the industry’s standpoint,” Wilhelm told the Sun from Washington. “His vehement anti-gambling views are well known. We’re going to do everything we can to derail that nomination.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Ashcroft’s nomination “does not bode well for Nevada.

“I think it’s quite clear that it is not an asset to the gaming industry to have him as attorney general,” Reid said.

Ashcroft once called gambling a “cancer on the sole of the nation.”

His nomination has led to a new wave of worries within gaming about the Bush administration’s treatment of the casino industry.

Casino executives heavily backed President-elect George W. Bush last year, even though the former Texas governor publicly criticized gambling in his state.

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