Alumnus Takes on Government-Run Gambling

By Nicole Cisneros McKeen

Les Bernal ’91 is executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling. He’s out to educate the public — and lawmak­ers — about what his organization calls “the government’s predatory gam­bling program.”

Bernal has been on the case for most of the last decade. He was a chief of staff for a state senator, but then decid­ed that rather than help run someone else’s campaign, he’d run his own — but he didn’t want to run for office. He wanted to campaign for change.

“As I got older, I guess I got more idealistic,” he said. “I wanted to do more. I wanted to use my political skills for something good.”

It wasn’t that he hadn’t imagined a career in public service. He’d been on the Student Government Associa­tion’s business and finance committee while a student at IC. He wanted to be mayor, to be the guy that cleaned up city hall and turned things around. But the more he came to understand how casinos and lotteries have become the public voice of American government, the more he thought: This is what I need to work on. This is a place where I can help change things for the better.

Don’t get the idea that Bernal is an all-work, no-fun kind of guy. He’s not trying to legislate morality.

“It’s not about gambling,” he says. “It’s about government and gambling. We want to put it on the national agenda that it’s time the government got out of this business,” Bernal said. “My role is helping coordinate that effort.”

“This issue came to symbolize to me — more than any other — what’s broken in government today,” Bernal said. “State lotteries and casinos are government programs.”

For now, his organization is rais­ing consciousness about the issue. “We’re building messaging and getting the constituency organized,” he says. “We can talk about this in a way that awakens people’s conscience. We’re building organizations, chapters, at the state level to get government out of this business.”

Read more about IC alumni who work behind the scenes in the world of politics at these links:

Georgia Bills ’74 represented Massachusetts State Representative Jerry Parisella while he was deployed in Iraq.

Tammy Mayberry ’97 is a a lobbyist for the City of Chi­cago in Wash­ington, D.C.

Dan Lamb ’86 has served as a top adviser to U.S. Con­gressman Maurice Hinchey since 1997.

Rob Bluey ’01 is the director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation

John Balduzzi ’01 is the president of The Balduzzi Group, a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Rob Flaherty ’13 served as campaign communi­cations director for Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick.

Sam Adams ’11 interned in Senator Olympia Snowe's office.