Though two efforts to ban automated teller machines in gambling houses and other locations in Montana have failed, a senator there is betting that a third try in next year's legislative session will be the charm.
In January the legislature is to consider Sen. Al Bishop's proposal to prohibit ATMs from the state's 1,700 casinos, bars, and restaurants that have Keno and poker machines. The Republican hopes heightened public concern about gambling addiction will get his bill a better reception than other Montana lawmakers got last year and in 1997.
"We have a lot of problem gamblers here, and having ATMs in these places just contributes to the problem," Sen. Bishop said. "I know it wouldn't be a cure-all, but to me, having an ATM right next to a gambling machine just makes it a whole lot easier to take money out of one machine and put it into another one."
John Cadby, executive director of the Montana Bankers Association, said removing ATMs from gambling houses would be no help to problem gamblers. After all, he said, they would still be allowed to cash checks or use their credit cards.
"At least with an ATM, you know when there's not enough cash, but with a check," gaming establishments "will probably get a bad check," Mr. Cadby said. "And with credit cards, gamblers can run up even more debt. We just don't believe this bill would provide any deterrence at all."
And he said the Bishop bill would hurt many banks that provide teller machines, particularly smaller community banks.
"It would not only harm banks, but a whole number of private sellers and services of ATMs, as well many of the casinos, bars, and restaurants that own ATMs," Mr. Cadby said.
Nessa Feddis, senior federal counsel at the American Bankers Association, said she doubts there will be copycats of the Montana bill.
"It's just not a big issue in other states - I can't imagine Nevada would want to do that," she said.
On the federal level, U.S. Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., has failed to get the House Banking Committee to conduct hearings on a bill he proposed last year that would remove ATMs - as well as credit card and point of sale devices - from areas close to gambling tables at casinos nationwide. But like Mr. Bishop, the New York Congressman will try his bill again next year in the 107th Congress, said Amy Simmons, spokeswoman for the committee's Democrat members.
"Studies suggest that more than five million Americans have a problem with gambling," Ms. Simmons said, citing a report by the National Gambling Study Commission. "The ready availability of cash and credit in and around gambling establishments is a major factor contributing to the cycle of irresponsible and pathological gambling behavior."
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