The debacle that was the 2000 presidential elections is still clear in all our minds: every major network calling Florida for George Bush - then Al Gore - then declaring the race officially up in the air. In the rush to report news to their viewers, the networks let competition cloud their journalistic judgment. While these media outlets later recognized and corrected their practices for reporting election results, similar pressure continues to create an environment in which news organizations can easily fall short in their coverage of other information.
Gaming is one topic that frequently has been the focus of incomplete, uneven or inaccurate reporting. How often have we seen stories with Tom Grey’s undocumented claims linking gambling with higher crime and bankruptcy rates, for example, without so much as a mention of the research on these topics from credible government-funded entities such as the U.S. Department of Treasury or the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which happened to reach the opposite conclusion? While we may not be able to expect gambling opponents to stick to the facts, we should demand more accountability from broadcasters, newspapers and journals that claim to be unbiased sources of information.
During the past year, as numerous jurisdictions across the country explored gambling expansion, press coverage of the industry has soared, with much of it inaccurate or misleading. For example, a recent New York Times story about competition within the Mid-Atlantic region over gambling dollars quoted a known gambling opponent saying he was ‘not opposed to gambling,’ then going on to explain why gambling expansion would be a bad idea. This individual was presented as an independent voice addressing this issue when, in fact, he has long been known as just the opposite.
What’s less acceptable than reporters unfamiliar with our industry not doing their homework is sloppiness from those who know us well.
A recent issue of the Gaming Law Review included an article by a recent law school graduate that, quite obviously, had not been through a basic review process. This outrageous piece of purportedly scholarly work contained numerous inaccuracies, erroneous conclusions and just flat-out falsehoods. Publication of this article prompted me to resign from my position on the journal’s editorial board.
Similarly, a column in the June 2002 issue of IGWB presented what I believed to be a distorted representation of the facts about research findings concerning pathological gambling. While a columnist certainly is free to express his views, it was both surprising - and disturbing - that an industry trade publication would publish such an ill-informed piece. What’s more, after I submitted a letter to the editor, IGWB solicited and published a critique of it. Unfortunately, this critique, published alongside my letter, contained just as many misrepresentations of the facts as the original column. This only served to perpetuate what I viewed as a biased presentation of the research findings on pathological gambling.
And then there’s the infamous issue of Managerial and Decision Economics, in which the regular editor of this normally respected academic journal turned over the reins of a single issue to guest editors - two known gambling opponents - who stacked the issue with articles by their anti-gambling cronies, then claimed publication in a ‘peer-reviewed journal.’
We’ve seen a surge in this kind of unbalanced coverage before. Whenever the issue of gambling has been thrust into the public eye - in the early 1990s and today, during waves of gambling expansion, and from 1996 to 1999, throughout the proceedings of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission - journalists who rarely covered the industry quickly were forced to learn about a business they hardly knew or, worse yet, an industry they thought they knew, primarily through novels and the silver screen.
So, is there a solution?
One obvious solution is for those in our industry to be armed with the facts and challenge each and every erroneous accusation made against gaming. We need to make sure reporters know and can verify the legitimacy of some of the outrageous claims made by our opponents