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Articles by Lisa Kaplan Gordon



USA TODAY
August 31, 1994, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


Casinos wager on families for the future / Critics say children being exposed to 'scary message'

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan, Gannett News Service
LENGTH: 1921 words
DATELINE: LAS VEGAS

Grant Spence is all of 9 years old, his face pressed against the glass of a Flip-It casino machine. His blue eyes widen as a line of $ 1 coins fall into a slot, adding to a shimmery jackpot.

In the past, Grant rode horses in Colorado on vacation. But this summer, the freckled-face youngster says gambling in Las Vegas looks like more fun.

"You can win lots of money," says the Houston boy as he stands in the MGM Grand casino, and watches his mother feed Flip-It another buck.

Once, casinos were adult playgrounds that shooed away kids and other small pests. But as gambling sweeps across the nation - a record $ 394 billion was wagered last year - the casino industry is pursuing a market niche previously considered a sucker bet: the family.

In the past two years, Las Vegas has opened a host of "mega-resorts" that are luring throngs of families with theme parks and roller coasters; 8,000-square-foot video arcades and pirate shows with sinking ships.

In 1987, children under 21 made up 5% of Las Vegas's 16.2 million annual visitor volume. In 1993, the junior slice grew to 7.9% of the rising 23.5 million visitor pie.

Even though some casinos are following tradition and courting only adult patrons, families are "the future" of gaming, says Howard Klein, publisher of The Gaming Marketer newsletter.

"The industry has realized it can't sustain its revenue unless it appeals to the family," Klein says.

Most major casinos now have dedicated areas for the kids - whether amusement parks, supervised play areas, or paid day care centers.

On a typical Saturday night at the Grand Casino in Gulfport, Miss., a supervised play center was filled with 193 children at $ 3 an hour.

But many still question whether such proximity to the casino can be good for a family, or the children.

"We're building a nation of gamblers," warns Arnie Wexler, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. Wexler says he saw kids in Las Vegas with "their noses in the machines. It's the most sickening thing I ever saw."

Children are learning "you'll pull a slot machine or buy a lottery ticket, and you'll be a millionaire," Wexler says. "And you won't have to work for the rest of your life. It's a scary message."

Although Nevada law says children under 21 are not permitted to gamble or loiter in casinos, they are doing both in Las Vegas.

Kids yank the handles of slots in McCarran Airport, where machines greet fliers to Las Vegas. In mega-resorts, kids stand either transfixed or bored as their parents feed the machines. Some even hold the chips.

Security guards frequently hustle kids away from the gaming tables or slots, citing state law, admonishing parents to keep kids moving away from the action.

"With the size crowds we have, I can't say it's never happened," says Tom Bruny, head spokesman for the MGM Grand Hotel, "but we do our best to try and prevent kids from hanging out in the casino."

Wexler, however, says it's hard to avoid the tables.

"If you want to make Las Vegas a destination for the family, build amusements where kids don't have to walk through the casino to get to them," Wexler says. "The purpose is to teach young kids about gambling."

Las Vegas is the biggest, but not the only, gambling area beckoning families.

Last year, 11,565 kids under 21 were escorted out of Atlantic City casinos; another 148,479 were prevented from sneaking in, records show.

Nevada gaming officials do not keep similar statistics. But Harlan Elges, chief of administration for the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, says underage gambling "is not a problem."

"These are publicly traded companies, and they're not going to jeopardize their licenses by allowing unlawful acts to take place, such as minors gambling," Elges says.

Even casinos with no facilities for kids are attracting families. In Tunica, Miss., police are leveling neglect charges at parents who leave children in locked cars in casino parking lots.

"We've seen five cases this year alone," says Danny Sowell of the Tunica County Sheriff's Department. "Small children under 10. It could be for 30 minutes or several hours. One (mother) left her small child in the car for several hours. It was like 96 degrees that day."

About 7 million youngsters are already gambling for money, and more than 1 million are experiencing "serious gambling related problems," says Durand Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Jacobs says studies of high school students showed 4% to 6% of youngsters are compulsive or pathological gamblers, compared to 1.4% for adults.

"We're finding kids coming in for professional help as young as 11 or 12," he says. "The age keeps dropping."

For all this, gaming executives offer a basic defense:

"We don't view gambling as evil or sinful," says Tom Bruny of the MGM Grand. "We don't think because a 10-year-old walks past a slot machine today, he is going to be a compulsive gambler by the age of 21."

And no matter where a family vacations, kids will encounter gambling sooner or later, says Robert Ladouceur, a Quebec psychologist who has studied child gambling.

"What parents must do is not stop the children from seeing those things," Ladouceur says. "But to inform them that gambling may be a problem for a certain amount of people."

 

Chicago Sun-Times
January 10, 1993, SUNDAY , FIRST EDITION


Gay Groups Point to Sailor's Murder

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan
LENGTH: 686 words

In September, Seaman Allen R. Schindler told the Navy he was gay and figured the military's ban on homosexuals would have him home by Christmas.

But at midnight Oct. 27, Schindler was beaten to death in a park bathroom near the Sasebo Naval Base in Japan, where his ship, the Belleau Wood, was docked.

The Navy took into custody two Belleau Wood shipmates and is continuing its investigation.

Friends say the motive is clear: Schindler was killed because he was gay.

Gay-rights groups contend that the military ban on gays, which President-elect Bill Clinton promises to lift, sets the stage for violence against homosexuals. They are collecting evidence they expect to present Monday to the Navy, holding press conferences, planning a candlelight vigil - to make sure this gay sailor's death is not buried at sea.

"I don't want it covered up," said Dorothy Hajdys, Schindler's mother, who lives in Chicago Heights. "The more people who know about it, the less chance the Navy is going to hide anything. Everybody knows what the military thinks of homosexuals."

Information released by the Navy sheds little light on Schindler and his death.

Interviews with Schindler's friends paint a portrait of a bitterly unhappy, 22-year-old sailor. He had been transferred in December, 1991, from his dream ship - the Midway aircraft carrier that was being moth-balled in Washington state - to the smaller Belleau Wood, an amphibious assault ship designed to carry helicopters and landing craft.

Schindler "called the ship 'Hella Wood," said Eric Underwood, a New York City entertainer performing in Sasebo.

Underwood said the Belleau Wood had a bad reputation in town.

Schindler hated the ship, according to his friends, who acknowledge that the seaman was a far-from-perfect sailor.

"He had an odd sense of humor," said Ricky Gonzales, a gay bartender in San Diego and former Navy officer who befriended Schindler. "He wouldn't talk about the usual things. I think that's why he didn't get along with anyone on his new ship."

He was fascinated with reptiles and spent hours sketching alligators and lizards. He was a fan of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show, and sometimes would speak Klingon, which he learned from a dictionary he carried around.

On the Midway, with a crew of 2,500, even a Klingon-speaking Trekkie could blend in. But on the 900-crew Belleau Wood, those who didn't blend in became outcasts, Gonzales said. Soon Schindler was getting into trouble with his superiors.

By the time the Belleau Wood pulled into Sasebo in September, 1992, Schindler was "fed up with the situation," Gonzales said. "And he decided to come out of the closet and get out" of the Navy.

According to the Navy, on Sept. 24 Schindler told his captain he was gay, and the administrative discharge process was begun.

The Navy also said Schindler was told to report any threats he received while awaiting his discharge.

"In the time between the notification and his death, Seaman Schindler saw the chaplain frequently and never mentioned any incidents of harassment," said Lt. Kenneth Ross, a Navy spokesman.

Neither Gonzales or Hajdys - who spoke to Schindler shortly before his death - remember hearing any complaints about harassment.

Although the motive for Schindler's killing is uncertain, the beating that killed him was clearly brutal.

On Nov. 23, Airman Charles A. Vins was convicted of failure to report an offense, resisting apprehension and failure to report a serious offense.

He was given a bad conduct discharge, sentenced to confinement for one year, and is being held in the naval brig in Yokosuka, Japan.

Belleau Wood Airman Terry M. Helvey is being held on suspicion of murder. Evidence against him will be presented at an investigation hearing Jan. 19, when he will be formally charged.

Tim McFeeley, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay political lobby, said: "It's very important for the Navy to understand what the motivations were, . . . and to create some preventive procedures that would prevent this from happening again."

 

Chicago Sun-Times
September 9, 1992, WEDNESDAY , FIVE STAR SPORTS FINAL


Travels With Teddy: How Some Execs Cope on Road

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan

SECTION: SECTION 2; FEATURES; Pg. 37

LENGTH: 436 words

Business travel can take the starch out of the most self-assured corporate titan. So some executives cope with the stress of success by bringing along their old "blanky" or "teddy" or "Mr. Duck," security objects from childhood that make far-flung places seem more like home.

"I take him everywhere," says Elisabeth Elman, 25, a New Jersey public relations executive of a beige teddy bear named Snuggles. "I bring him with me to have a piece of home. And since I've always brought him and haven't had any trouble traveling, it's a superstition. If I don't bring him, I get really upset."

Hotels around the nation report seeing stuffed animals and well-worn baby blankets in rooms occupied only by corporate honchos.

"It's something familiar in a foreign environment," says Rachel Spasser of the Parker Meridien Hotel, a midtown Manhattan hotel that caters to business travelers. The Parker Meridien's housekeeping staff regu larly digs through a mountain of sheets to retrieve teddy bears or tattered blankets owned by executives unhinged at their sudden disappearance.

Some corporate guests of Washington, D.C.'s, Carlton Hotel, two blocks from the White House, bring along nightlights, those flame-shaped gadgets that once kept childhood demons and hobgoblins at bay.

"That's a security thing," says Kathleen Keenan, a spokeswoman for the hotel.

Security objects are a part of most childhoods, substitutes for mother that toddlers carry wherever they go, psychologists say.

"We often push our children away from us too soon," says Karen Shanor, a Washington, D.C., psychologist. "They still have this need to attach. If the person isn't there on a reliable basis or in a loving way, there is a tendency to attach to some thing."

Most kids outgrow their particular security object by the time they reach school age.

But some hold tight throughout their adult and professional lives.

Britain's Prince Charles travels with a teddy bear so ancient that the Queen Mother has sewn back its velvet feet to restore some dignity to the old friend, according to Andrew Morton's Diana's Diary (Summit Books, $ 19.95). "When the prince travels abroad, his valet places teddy in a plastic shirt bag and takes him with the entourage," Morton says.

Security objects come in all shapes and sizes. Family pictures, favorite slippers, over-stuffed Filofaxes can be invested with powers to comfort and protect people far from home, Shanor says.

"All alleviate a bit of anxiety and have some connection to home, whether it's the home of today or that coziness and security as a child," she says.


Chicago Sun-Times
July 25, 1993, SUNDAY , LATE SPORTS FINAL


The Melodies Of Summer Stir Memories

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan
LENGTH: 640 words

You and your sweetheart are dancing beneath an August moon as waves break in rhythm on the shore. A transistor radio plays "See You in September" as you press so close your bodies fuse and pulses rush.

For the rest of your life, whenever you see that kind of moon, you think of that song; and when you hear that song, you remember those waves and that dance.

Unlike other times and other tunes, summer memories and summer music remain linked in our minds. Even after the memories grow hazy, the melodies stay clear

Summer is the season of family vacations, first loves, endless beaches - the stuff fond memories are made of, says Bruce Pollock, editor of Popular Music: An Annotated Guide to American Popular Songs (Gale Research: $ 63).

"Whatever song is playing during an extreme emotional situation, you'll remember," Pollock says. "Summer has many more of those situations."

Singer Brian Hyland, who recorded the summer hits "Sealed With a Kiss" (1962) and "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" (1960), says fans still remember where they were when they first heard his songs.

"People say they heard my song in the back seat of a car," says Hyland, who now lives in the Mojave Desert in California. "People have a different attitude during the summertime about their lives. They're on break from their lives. They're more open-minded."

Summer music isn't just music released in summer.

Summer songs rhapsodize about school vacations, cloudless skies, finding and losing love, says Gary Stewart, vice president of artists and repertoire for Rhino Records, a Los Angeles company that has released a CD compilation of summer oldies titled "Summer and Sun."

Summer songs "talk about a certain kind of freedom and abandonment," Stewart says. "The weather's good, you can go to the beach, you can go to the park. Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. You can see it's a universal theme in American culture."

The 1960s was the heyday of summer songs, which developed in tandem with California's surf culture and songs that glorified the perfect wave and leggy dates.

"You'll never find the concentration (of summer music) you found in the '60s," Stewart says.

Some say summer music as a musical genre has slipped into the sunset.

Summer oldies had an innocence, a naive sexual yearning that doesn't seem to describe teenagers or their music today, says Gary Klein, senior vice president of EMI Music Publishing in New York City.

"It's a different emotional climate," says Klein, 50, who wrote "Bobby's Girl" in 1962. "I grew up in suburbia on Long Island, N.Y. There was a feeling of safety and tranquility. Kids were more romantic back then. We didn't have the threat of AIDS. Drugs were yet to come. Our desires were simple."

Today's summer hits most often come from summer movies. "Let's Hear It for the Boy," for example, the Deniece Williams hit during the summer of 1984, came from the soundtrack of the film "Footloose." Summer singles also are released to coincide with a music group's summer tour, says Les Bider, chairman of Warner-Chappell Music, which publishes 900,000 titles.

"In the summer, you can put out songs because you're going to be selling albums that revolved around a tour," Bider says. Songs now are marketed to match "other events in an artist's career."

Perhaps rockers no longer wax euphoric about teeny bikinis, and first kisses are exchanged earlier than ever.

But songs heard in summer still are paired with the precious moments found during balmy days and starry nights.

Nicole Johnson, 18, who just graduated from high school in Fairfax County, Va., says she'll never forget her senior prom, her prom date and her prom song.

" 'One Moment in Time,' " Johnson says of the song released in late-summer 1988. "I know I'll always remember that."


USA TODAY
November 25, 1992, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


Home builders end up homeless

BYLINE: Lisa Faye Kaplan
LENGTH: 380 words
DATELINE: LEISURE CITY, Fla.

On a Monday morning at 10, Kristy Karalis rolls out of bed - a dirty mattress on the floor of a wooden lean-to.

She dresses in jeans and a T-shirt and eats a hot dog breakfast at a nearby fast-food restaurant.

Kristy, 11, is from Houston. But her mother's boyfriend is a roofer, and south Dade County needs roofs. So Kristy and her 10-year-old sister, Kerri, followed the adults to the wreckage of Hurricane Andrew.

''My mom and her boyfriend came here to help get this place together,'' Kristy says as she cuddles a stray kitten.

While her mother searches for a decent place for them to live, Kristy pedals a discarded bike through this roadside shantytown, a cluster of 10 shacks and tents filled with carpenters, electricians and other construction workers and families.

Most find day work with contractors; some have been injured on the job and hang around the trash-covered lot all day.

Abandoned lots in south Dade County are littered with people from someplace else - people who left home seeking work and now are workers seeking homes.

Housing in and near the disaster area is scarce.

Hotels are booked and rentals are sky-high. Some one-bedroom apartments that go for $ 1,000 a month are considered cheap.

''How are we going to help rebuild this place if there's no place to live?'' asks Ellen Karalis, 38, Kristy's mom.

Kristy and Kerri, the only children on the lot, romp with a 16-year-old baby sitter during the day. They play Go Fish, eat canned food and practice driving a car along the scarred and parched lot.

''She's teaching me how to drive a stick,'' says Kristy, who sits in the baby sitter's lap and works the car's gearshift lever.

Ellen Karalis plans to enroll her daughters in school, but wants to find a permanent address first.

''I'm not going to put them in and keep moving,'' she says, sipping a Budweiser and smoking a Doral.

Karalis says she doesn't know how the family will celebrate Thanksgiving. She says she'll probably order a cooked turkey dinner from a local grocery store.

Karalis hopes to send the girls back to their father in Houston for Christmas. Looking back, she doesn't think coming to south Dade was such a good idea.

''I wouldn't'' do it again, she says. But ''now that I'm here, I'm here. I am home.''