Member, the United Parish of Auburndale (a federated UCC/UMC church)
In less than 100 days, Massachusetts’ citizens will vote on whether to implement, or repeal, the casino gambling legislation passed in 2011. Although the outcome in November is unknown, one thing is certain: this debate will be loud, forceful, and costly. Here is a framework, written from a UCC perspective, for evaluating the issue.
Consider the players and what they have at stake
In one corner of the ring are the casino operators. They have deep pockets, live out of state, and want access to virgin territory – the citizens, real estate, and government support of Massachusetts. Their goals are to recruit new gamblers and reverse an industry-wide contraction. In the other corner are the citizen activists who led the repeal initiative. They include: a computer programmer, a Harvard Divinity School student, a retired state legislator, and a progressive mayor. Why have these people and hundreds more worked to give citizens the opportunity for a statewide, up-or-down vote on casinos? For many of them, it is a matter of putting faith into action and striving for social justice.
Question conventional narratives
Casino developers want to frame the debate around tax revenue and jobs – both worthy of support on the surface. But let’s dig a bit deeper. In terms of tax revenues, are the financial projections credible and sustainable in the highly saturated East Coast gambling market? When revenues fall short, will Massachusetts follow the lead of other states and prop up the industry with massive tax packages? What happens to small businesses when citizens gamble away the money they used to spend on Main Street? With regard to jobs, the implicit assumption is that new casino positions are incremental and permanent; however, the recent spate of casino closures in Atlantic City undermines this story line.
Evaluate the marriage, not the courtship
The dance between casino operators and revenue-hungry politicians has been going on for three decades. Dating these high rollers – who promise income, jobs, revitalization, and glitzy nights on the town – is heady stuff. Setting up house with them is even more thrilling: Let’s register for a billion dollar palace. Or three! Before being seduced into an irrevocable partnership, we should ask: Is the gambling industry marriage material? According to independent research, the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers. And when individuals suffer, they destabilize families, neighborhoods, and communities.
Although the UCC has not articulated a position on gambling, the church website, ucc.org, states: “Doing justice, seeking peace and building community are central to the identity of the United Church of Christ.” [note: the Annual Meetings of the Massachusetts Conference passed three resolutions on gambling between 1984-1994; view them here] Casinos are a regressive tax that preys on “the least of these.” They inject crime and corruption into a region. And they damage communities through addiction and the diversion of discretionary funds away from the local economy. Because of our state’s participatory democracy, ordinary citizens can be the final firebreak that stops the legalization of gambling in Massachusetts. As progressive Christians, let us lead the effort to repeal this flawed legislation. Vote “Yes on 3,” to keep casino gambling out of the Commonwealth.
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