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Fascinating article about Vice-Czar Wm. Bennett & His Two Vices


The Man of Virtues Has a Vice

Conservative activist Bill Bennett has wagered millions in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos during the past decade


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The Man of Virtues Has a Vice
Conservative activist Bill Bennett has wagered millions in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos during the past decade
By Jonathan Alter and Joshua Green
    May 2 —  In his best-selling anthology, “The Book of Virtues,” William J. Bennett writes: “We should know that too much of anything, even a good thing, may prove to be our undoing … [We] need to set definite boundaries on our appetites.”  

 DOES BENNETT? The popular author, lecturer and Republican Party activist speaks out, often indignantly, about almost every moral issue except one—gambling. It’s not hard to see why. According to casino documents, Bennett is a “preferred customer” in at least four venues in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, betting millions of dollars over the last decade. His games of choice: video poker and slot machines, some at $500 a pull. With a revolving line of credit of at least $200,000 at each casino, Bennett, former drug czar and secretary of Education under Presidents Reagan and Bush, doesn’t have to bring money when he shows up at a casino.
       More than 40 pages of internal casino documents provided to The Washington Monthly and NEWSWEEK paint a picture of a gambler given the high-roller treatment, including limos and tens of thousands of dollars in complimentary hotel rooms and other amenities. In one two-month period, the documents show him wiring more than $1.4 million to cover losses at one casino. In one 18-month stretch, Bennett visited a number of casinos for two or three days at a time. And Bennett must have worried about news of his habit leaking out. His customer profile at one casino lists an address that corresponds to Empower.org, the Web site of Empower America, the group Bennett cochairs. But typed across the form are the words: NO CONTACT AT RES OR BIZ!!!
       Some of Bennett’s losses have been substantial. According to one casino source, on July 12 of last year, Bennett lost $340,000 at Caesars in Atlantic City, and on April 5 and 6 of 2003 he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Some casino estimates put his total losses over the past decade at more than $8 million. “There’s a term in the trade for his kind of gambler,” says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. “We call them losers.”
       Reached by NEWSWEEK, Bennett acknowledged he gambles but not that he has ended up behind. “Over 10 years, I’d say I’ve come out pretty close to even,” Bennett says, though he wouldn’t discuss any specific figures. “You can roll up and down a lot in one day, as we have on many occasions,” Bennett explains. “You may cycle several hundred thousand dollars in an evening and net out only a few thousand.”
        But during the 18-month period, the documents show, there were only a few occasions when Bennett turned in chips—worth about $30,000 or $40,000—at the end of an evening. Most of the time, he drew down his line of credit, often substantially. A casino source, hearing of Bennett’s claim to breaking even on slots over 10 years, just laughed.
The Washington Monthly’s Story on Bennett

       “I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I don’t play the ‘milk money.’ I don’t put my family at risk, and I don’t owe anyone anything,” Bennett says. The documents do not contradict those points.
       Bennett, who earns more than $50,000 per speaking engagement and made several hundred thousand dollars in publishing advances for the more recent of his 11 books, says “I’ve made a lot of money and I’ve won a lot of money. When I win, I usually give at least a chunk of it away [to charity]. I report everything to the IRS.”
        “You don’t see what I walk away with,” Bennett says. “They [the casinos] don’t want you to see it.”
        Bennett says he plays slot machines and video poker for privacy. “I’ve been a machine person,” he says. “When I go to the tables, people talk—and they want to talk about politics. I don’t want that. I do this for three hours to relax.”
        He has made no secret of his gambling, Bennett adds. He says he was in Las Vegas in April for dinner with the former governor of Nevada and gambled while he was there. “I’ve gambled all my life, and it’s never been a moral issue with me. I liked church bingo when I was growing up. I’ve been a poker player.” He says that after a recent speech in Rochester, he was asked whether he would run for president in 2008 and answered that he might enter the World Series of Poker instead.
       Bennett has long been known to be part of a small-stakes poker game in Washington with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and lawyer Robert Bork. But his high-stakes gaming comes as a surprise to many friends. “We knew he went out there [to Las Vegas] sometimes, but at that level? Wow!” says one longtime associate.
       Bennett and his organization, Empower America, oppose the extension of casino gambling in the states. In a recent editorial, his Empower America cochair, Jack Kemp, inveighed against lawmakers who “pollute our society with a slot machine on every corner.” The group recently published an “Index of Leading Cultural Indicators” that reports 5.5 million American adults as “problem” or “pathological” gamblers. Bennett says he has his gambling under control.
       When reminded of studies that link heavy gambling to divorce, bankruptcy, domestic abuse and other family problems he has widely decried, Bennett compared the situation to alcohol. “I view it as drinking,” Bennett says. “If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.”
       © 2003 Newsweek, Inc.