WASHINGTON, May 3 (UPI) -- Conservative author of "The Book of Virtues," Bill Bennett, concedes he has wagered millions of dollars in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos during the past decade but says it's not a moral problem, Newsweek Magazine reported Saturday.
The popular author, lecturer and Republican Party activist is a "preferred customer" in at least four casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the magazine said.
Bennett's games of choice are video poker and slot machines, some at $500 a pull. The former drug czar and secretary of Education under Presidents Reagan and Bush has a revolving line of credit of at least $200,000 at each casino, according to the report.
More than 40 pages of internal casino documents were provided to The Washington Monthly and NEWSWEEK that, the publications said, paint a picture of a gambler given the high-roller treatment. Bennett is provided limos and tens of thousands of dollars in complimentary hotel rooms and other amenities.
Some casino estimates put his total losses over the past decade at more than $8 million, the magazines said.
"There's a term in the trade for his kind of gambler," a casino source told Newsweek. "We call them losers."
Reached by Newsweek, Bennett acknowledged he gambles but not that he has ended up a loser.
"Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even," Bennett told Newsweek. "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."
In one two-month period, the documents show Bennett 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.
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, the publications said. 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.
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.
Bennett told The Washington Monthly, "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."
He continued, "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." The magazines could come up with nothing that contradicted those points.
Bennett 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. He said, "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."
Bennett said he has made no secret of his gambling. He said he was in Las Vegas in April for dinner with the former governor of Nevada and gambled while he was there.
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!" said one longtime associate.
In his best-selling anthology, "The Book of Virtues," Bennett wrote that people "need to set definite boundaries on our appetites."
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.