Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Gay Sailor Murder Investigation
Corporate Titan Travel with Teddy Bears
Home Builders End Up Homeless

Articles by Lisa Kaplan Gordon


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

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."




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