Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prayerful Reflections Against Casinos in Massachusetts

A Statement from the Reverend Luther Zeigler, Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard.

Presented at “Towards a New Dawn” – An Interfaith Prayer Rally at Harvard University’s Memorial Church, October 22, 2014 at 7 p.m.

Good evening, my friends.  My name is Luther Zeigler, and I am the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard. I come with greetings and prayers from the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, Alan Gates, who is so disappointed he cannot be with us tonight, for he shares with me a passionate concern about the important questions of social justice that bring us together, and in particular about the insidious impact that the presence of casinos will have on our communities unless we vote to repeal the casino legislation next month at the ballot box.  We add our Episcopal voices to those of the many faith communities across this great state who urge you to Vote Yes on Question 3, so that we can stop the cynical attempts of the casino industry to sell false hope to our people and to prey on the poor and the desperate.

The fact of the matter is this:  casinos are not trustworthy community partners who build up healthy communities by producing goods or services that we need; rather, casinos siphon off money from the economy, largely by picking the pockets of those who cannot afford to lose their hard-earned dollars, so that wealthy casinos owners and investors, most of whom do not live in our communities, can themselves profit.

The evidence shows that casino gambling generates its income disproportionately from the lowest economic classes.  The net effect is a regressive redistribution of wealth, contributing over time to an even increased disparity between the rich and the poor, the very last thing we need.

The slick television ads sponsored by the casino industry that we have been seeing in recent weeks promise jobs.  Please do not believe these promises.  Manufacturing thousands upon thousands of slot machines into which our people are invited to dump their wages is not a sound jobs strategy.  In fact, each one of these machines sucks about $100,000 annually out of our people’s pockets, money that could be going instead to local business owners who are working hard to provide goods and services that we actually need.

We should learn from the recent experience of states like Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio.  In those states, exploiting people’s fears in the wake of recent recessions, casino owners persuaded voters to allow for the expansion of casinos with the promise of jobs.  Our new bishop, Alan Gates, comes to us from the state of Ohio, where he was the rector of a large church outside of Cleveland, and he has shared with us that state’s very relevant history with this issue.

A 2009 legislative initiative in Ohio authorized the construction of four casinos.  In its massive campaign selling the initiative, the industry promised the voters of Ohio, as they are now promising us, the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.  Yet, according to an analysis out last month in the Columbus Dispatch, neither the jobs nor the tax revenues promised by the casino owners materialized in Ohio in the ensuing five years.

Rather than getting more jobs or tax revenues, what these communities get instead is a new wave of social problems.  The evidence from the social science is clear.  When casinos come into communities, crime increases, personal bankruptcy rates rise, predatory lending practices surface, and the vulnerable are exploited.

And let there be no mistake about it:  Addiction to gambling is an underappreciated and serious social problem that plagues too many of our friends and neighbors.  And while one can make libertarian arguments that adults should be free to choose how to spend their recreation hours, this leaves out of the equation the profound impact this disease has on our children.  For one of the hard truths about gambling addiction is that its chief impact is often on the children of parents whose addiction leads them to patterns of neglect, abuse, and the depletion of family resources available for the care of children.  How can inviting casinos into our communities possibly be good for our children?

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor; to heal the sick; to free the captives; to create healthy communities that reflect the Kingdom of God.  He did not come to line the pockets of predatory casino investors; to contribute to income inequality; to bring crime into our neighborhoods; or to fuel unhealthy behaviors that hurt the most vulnerable.  Let us say ‘yes’ to Question 3 on November 4th; let us say ‘yes’ to justice; and let us say ‘no’ to casinos in our communities.  Amen.

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