By Ted and Michelle Steger
Members, First Church of Christ, Longmeadow
We’d like to take a moment to share with you, the leaders of UCC churches statewide, how our faith has informed our strong opposition to casinos. We read Melissa Wylie’s eloquent post, and applaud the UCC’s past resolutions on gambling, but want to provide some further perspectives on why we’re working and praying hard for the YES on 3 cause, and why we hope you will too.
Our favorite parts of being members of First Church in Longmeadow are the opportunity to help serve those in need, and to be part of a multi-generational community where we can learn from our elders and help guide our youth. As we've researched this issue, we've learned that casinos in Massachusetts would do a great deal of harm to those three groups: those in need, our elders, and our youth.
Casinos Exploit the Poor
It’s no secret that casinos oppress and exploit the poor. According to a 2004 study by Welte, et. al., people in the lowest financial quintile have more than three times the rate of pathological gambling than people in the top four quintiles. The authors of the study theorize that “the poor may see gambling as an escape from poverty, making them more prone to gambling pathology.” The mathematics of gambling dictate that for the vast majority, it is not an escape, but means of falling deeper into poverty.
In Luke 14:18, in which is Jesus quoting from Isaiah 61, it is written that: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.”
As Bishop Douglas Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass puts it, “Jesus comes to bring good news to the poor. Casinos are bad for the poor. We follow Jesus.” His statement is a must read, full of theological and other reasons to support the YES on 3 cause. The Massachusetts Catholic Bishops also recently released a thoughtful statement in support of YES on 3 based largely on the exploitation of the poor. We believe that putting a casino in impoverished locations like Springfield and Everett is a social injustice, and the right thing to speak out and oppose it.
Casinos Harm Our Older and Younger Neighbors
From Mark 12:29-31: Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.' The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' “
Casinos are supposed to keep underage people off the gambling floors. But the temptation of alcohol and gambling means that many of our youth will attempt to gamble anyway. “About one-third of those banned from Colorado's casinos are being kept from playing the state's slots, card tables and roulette wheels after being convicted of underage gambling infractions.” And we were shocked to see this 2008 article which stated that “the number of underage gamblers turned away from casinos or arrested in New Jersey had been about cut in half - from a high of 144,000 in 2001 to last year's low of 77,000.” Those who gamble at a young age are at increased risk for gambling addiction.
Our youth don’t have to enter a casino’s doors to be harmed, as the increased gambling addiction that comes with proximity to casinos causes increased domestic and child abuse, divorce, and bankruptcy. And the free alcohol that would be allowed from 8 AM – 2 AM threatens us and our children on the roads.The tiny town of Ledyard, Connecticut, home to Foxwoods casino, has the highest rate of drunk driving accidents in the state, and had four drunk driving deaths tied to the neighboring Mohegan Sun casino in 2009.
Our older neighbors all too often turn to casinos in attempt to fill the voids they feel due to lack of human contact and caring. The slot machines, designed to maximize “time on machine” and get the patrons into the zone where their problems fade behind the spinning reels, are a poor substitute for compassion, caring, and human touch. For a truly heartbreaking study of casinos and seniors, please read http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/seniors-in-casino-land.pdf. Our older neighbors deserve better from all of us.
Massachusetts Can Do Better, and the UCC can help
We were deeply inspired by a Letter to the Editor that reads in part,
Even if the casino delivers all the tax dollars, jobs, and shiny renovations (which, of course, is not a guarantee), is a casino really what we want for our city? What would be your dream of a healthy, vibrant, productive, and sustaining economic development plan for [Massachusetts]?We are reminded of 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” By encouraging a YES on 3 vote, we can help thousands avoid those many sorrows.
Casinos promise jobs. Are they the jobs we want our children to have? Is the work dignified? Is it work that is productive, helpful, and useful to our community and world? Is it work that allows for the expression of one’s personal religious or moral values? Is it work that provides long-term stability to households and communities? …
Casinos promise economic development to a city. Is it a sort of development that gives the residents a sense of ownership and involvement? Is it economic development that brings dignity and pride? Is it development that will allow and encourage local businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive? Is it development that provides a healthy, safe and vibrant environment in which families can raise their children? After the initial windfall of capital investment, is it development that will sustain the community around it?
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