- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Former education secretary and “Book of Virtues” author William J. Bennett yesterday said his gambling days are history.”A number of stories in the media have reported that I have engaged in high stakes gambling over the past decade,” he said in a statement after Newsweek reported that he lost $8 million gambling in the last 10 years. “It is true that I have gambled large sums of money. I have also complied with all laws on reporting wins and losses.”Nevertheless, I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set,” said Mr. Bennett, one of the nation’s best-known exponents of family values. “Therefore, my gambling days are over.”That commitment drew praise from prominent social conservatives, including those who criticized Mr. Bennett immediately after the gambling revelations were published on the Internet late last week.”I think he said exactly the right thing,” said Family Research Council (FRC) President Ken Connor.While some social conservatives were clearly relieved to hear Mr. Bennett repent, others remembered that Mr. Bennett over the last 20 years has been willing to criticize fellow conservatives.”I remember once when I was criticizing Bill Clinton, Bill Bennett said I had gone beyond the pale,” the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, told The Washington Times. “I didn’t respond then, and I am not going to respond now.”Mr. Bennett at first claimed he had done no wrong. In a statement Sunday, his wife, Elayne Bennett, said her husband was not addicted to gambling but at the same time indicated she was fed up with his trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., to feed the slot machines and video games. “He’s never going again,” she said.Mr. Falwell said, “Mrs. Bennett is probably doing an excellent job on telling him what he needs to hear, and I am sure he doesn’t need a sermon from Jerry Falwell. Just stop doing it.”Some conservatives expressed doubt toward the insistence by Mr. Bennett and his wife that he was not addicted to gambling.Concerned Women for America said it “commends our friend Bill Bennett’s bold move to cease gambling, despite an absence of personal conviction. Taking responsibility for his example to others, he has once again demonstrated good character.”Noting that “families are crumbling under the weight of irresponsible gambling losses,” CWA, founded by Beverly LaHaye, said in a statement: “We pray that Mr. Bennett will remain firm in his resolve to eliminate gambling from his life and will not hesitate to seek any help he may need in keeping his resolve.”In Colorado Springs, James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, said he was “disappointed to learn that our longtime friend, Dr. Bill Bennett, is dealing with what appears to be a gambling addiction.”“ ‘Gaming,’ as the industry euphemistically refers to itself, is a cancer on the soul of the nation,” Mr. Dobson said. Commending Mr. Bennett for his intention to quit gambling, he said, “Our prayers will be with him and his family in the days ahead.”Charles Colson, the former Nixon White House aide who later founded and heads Prison Fellowship, said: “In light of Bill’s statement, I support him 100 percent.” He expressed the hope that “this unfortunate incident will not in any way diminish [Mr. Bennett] or his influence.”The FRC’s Mr. Connor said that while “opinions differ as to whether gambling is a vice, few would regard it as a virtue. … As the nation’s leading critic of America’s virtue deficit, Mr. Bennett, like it or not, bears a greater burden regarding his personal conduct than the average citizen.”Empower America, the advocacy group Mr. Bennett co-founded with Jack Kemp and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, frowns on the expansion of the gambling industry. And the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, a creation of Mr. Bennett’s, includes gambling as a negative indicator.While liberal critics took the opportunity to slam Mr. Bennett as a hypocrite, some conservatives sought to avoid criticizing a longtime ally. Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, one of the staunchest opponents of legalized gambling, yesterday declined to comment on Mr. Bennett.

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