Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, whose books and speeches espousing traditional virtues have made him rich and famous, is a high-stakes casino gambler, according to reports published Friday.
"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," Bennett told reporters for Newsweek and Washington Monthly, which worked cooperatively on stories that appeared on their Web sites.
Joshua Green, an editor at Washington Monthly, obtained documents from several casinos indicating that Bennett has lost about $8 million in the last decade, generally during stretches of video poker and high-stakes slot machine play in exclusive rooms at leading casinos.
"On July 12 of last year, for instance, Bennett lost $340,000 at Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City. And ... on April 5 and 6, he lost more than $500,000 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas," Green reported.
Bennett confirmed to Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter that he sometimes wagers hundreds of thousands of dollars in a night of gambling, but denied that he has lost millions, saying that casino records do not adequately account for winnings.
"Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even," said Bennett, who served as Education secretary under President Reagan and drug czar under the first President Bush.
Asked for a comment on the published articles, a spokesman for Bennett said Friday, "he needs time to digest the story, so he won't be available for comment today."
Many fundamentalist Protestant churches have long held that all gambling is a vice, but the Roman Catholic position -- Bennett's faith -- is less clear-cut. "Games of chance [card games, etc.] or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for one's needs and those of others."
Frank Scoblete, a widely published authority on casino games, said it is unlikely that Bennett could have avoided losing money over time while playing slot machines. Those games are programmed to give the casino an advantage of 2% to 15%.