The Rev. Tom Grey is in his element, working the room as a federal panel examining the spread of legalized gambling hears testimony.

Wearing a "CasiNO" button on the lapel of his blue blazer, he huddles with compulsive gambling expert Arnie Wexler to compare notes.He rushes to the side of Scott Schuster, a casino worker who just complained to the panel about casino labor practices, to listen to him - and preach at him.

He sits for one-on-one interviews with reporters in town to cover the National Gambling Impact Study Commission's two-day visit to the East Coast gambling mecca, making sure they get the anti-gambling message, too.

Grey, a retired Methodist minister and former U.S. Army infantryman, has combined battlefield strategy and religious fervor to become America's foremost anti-gambling crusader.

Crisscrossing the nation to beat back pro-gambling initiatives in local communities, he has fashioned a reputation as a modern-day David fighting the Goliath of gambling.

"On a shoestring budget, he's had a tremendous impact," said Edward Looney, executive director the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Inc. "He's brought good, concrete ideas to bring people back to the middle of the gambling debate."

This is The Gospel According to Grey: Casinos have failed as economic development tools and are instead driving Americans to bankruptcy, suicide and divorce. And governments, by approving casino gambling and promoting their own state-run endeavors, are part of the problem.

Grey, of Hanover, Ill., is executive director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, a grass-roots organization with a budget of $150,000.

He heard the call six years ago, when a casino was proposed for his hometown. Now he travels the nation to organize opposition. Outmanned and underfunded, his group has had an impact nonetheless. He has helped defeat gambling initiatives in 20 states.

The spread of casino gambling to dozens of states in the late 1980s and early 1990s has stalled with a series of ballot-box defeats.

"It has stopped because there's a backlash against it, not because the industry has agreed to stop the spread. They're fighting a headquarters battle and we're winning in the countryside," Grey said.

In January, his crusade brought him to Atlantic City, the faded seaside tourist town that resorted to casino gambling in 1978 in a bid to remake itself.

While state and local leaders lauded the economic impacts - more than 40,000 jobs, billions of dollars in tax revenue, aid to seniors and the disabled - Grey was not impressed.

"It's being reborn and it's being reborn on the backs of people losing money. They say $50 billion has gone through here. I don't see $50 billion in the community. I see very little, and what is there now is just being done.

"This is the model on regulation but not on economic development," he said. "This is a place where the product has been for 20 years and it's just now starting to take hold."

After listening to experts tell the federal commission about the social impacts of casino gambling - suicides, divorce and bankruptcies by distraught bettors - he laughs off the suggestion that the casino companies will work to help them.

"It is the compulsive gamblers losing that is their main revenue source. `If we don't take him for everything, where's the profit?' The guy who spends $20 and then goes home? No," Grey said.

A thorn in the casino industry's side, he has nonetheless earned some respect.

Mirage Resorts Inc. spokesman Alan Feldman gives credit - grudgingly - but says Grey could be more effective if he worked with casinos instead of against them.