EDITORIAL: Anyone else tired of the expanded gambling issue?

The following editorial by Todd Deaton appears in this week’s edition of the Western Recorder.

Here we go again! It seems like this is the umpteenth time our governor and a small group of legislators have pushed for casinos in Kentucky, attempting to make them palatable by tying them to horseracing, education, the state’s budget or some other cause. But nothing has really changed: Casinos were wrong for Kentucky then, and they are wrong for Kentucky now.

Why? Casinos prey upon vulnerable persons-your relatives, coworkers, friends and neighbors. Casinos seek to rob the pockets of families and undermine legitimate area businesses that produce beneficial products and provide essential services for communities. What beneficial product does a casino produce? They foster gambling addictions which destroy people’s lives by taking away paychecks and possessions. Supporters try to console us since they may provide counseling to compulsive gamblers. Still, the counseling comes too late for some. The financial ruin and psychological damage has been done. All some would have us see, though, is the money the state’s coffers might gain. From where does all this money come, and at what cost to our communities?

Here are some key questions: Is there ever a special interest group or cause worth our government tying its financial welfare to that would make its association with a predatory industry that undermines the social and economic welfare of its citizens appropriate? For our government to profit, is it right for it to put some of its citizens in a position where they have to become big losers?

In a recent BP article, Joe Carter, director of communications for the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, observed that while casino gambling used to be associated with two resort destinations, Las Vegas and Atlantic City, 23 states now have commercial casinos. “Unlike the old Vegas-style resorts, the new regional casinos depend decisively on attracting gamblers who live in the region, who return frequently and who play modern slot machines,” Carter said. In other words, Kentucky’s casinos would be primarily preying upon local residents.

Citing a report of the Council on Casinos released last September, Carter also noted that problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, and that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling. Meanwhile, a survey of Gamblers Anonymous participants found that more than 26 percent had experienced gambling-related divorces or separations. Among other social consequences are a reduction in volunteerism, civic participation and family stability within 15 miles of a community where a casino is located. Is this really what we want for Kentucky?

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, how can we say with integrity that loving God and loving our neighbors in any way allows us to stand back and idly watch as someone fleeces them, so that their spouses leave them or their kids may go hungry, lack clothes or not receive adequate medical care? Is it still a “commonwealth” when a few are granted licenses to profit wildly at the great expense or total demise of others? Ethically, can God’s people turn a blind eye to this injustice?

“Are we our brother’s keeper?” some may counter. “Didn’t those compulsive gamblers choose to play ‘those games,’ despite knowing the consequences?” But it isn’t a game! High stakes are involved. Losing turns tragic all too quickly. Don’t we share some civic responsibility when we fail to speak out against social injustice and to decry the hardships that our leaders’ decisions may wreak upon Kentucky’s families?

Kentucky Baptists were victorious in efforts to stop seven casinos from entering the state in 2012 when a bill fell short in the Senate. “Gambling is a social justice issue that defines how it is that we love our neighbors and uphold the common good,” according to Russell Moore, now president of the ERLC. Calling gambling a form of “economic predation,” Moore, then a dean at Southern Seminary, wrote, “Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. It benefits multinational corporations while oppressing the lower class with illusory promises of wealth, and with (typically) low-wage transitory jobs that simultaneously destroy every other economic engine of a local community.”

Yet, the social costs of gambling have all been stated time and again. Every February for the past decade, perhaps two, it seems that I or other editors of the Western Recorder have written articles warning of the woes of expanded gambling. Our Kentucky Baptist Committee on Public Affairs continually has taken strong stands. “This issue keeps coming up year after year,” said KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood, “and it’s time that the Christian majority in this state rises up and says ‘enough is enough.'”

This past week, Chitwood drew the attention of national media as he again urged Kentucky Baptists and other concerned citizens to become actively involved in opposing expanded gambling through 60-second radio spots aired across the state and in videos sent to KBC churches. “Where gambling is legalized, misery follows,” he warns, encouraging Christians to speak out against gambling legislation pending in the General Assembly. Download the video and show it to your congregation, Sunday School class, or small group; then encourage others also to oppose any attempt to expand gambling in Kentucky by calling the Legislative message line at (800) 372-7181. (WR)


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