Kick Habit of Gambling Revenue, Says Bay State Clergy

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

MASSACHUSETTS clergy are speaking out strongly against state-sponsored gambling.

Last week, more than 100 Protestant leaders descended on the State House to urge lawmakers to oppose revenue-raising initiatives proposed by Gov. William Weld (R), who wants to introduce casino gambling, floating casinos, and video poker to raise state funds.

``Just as gambling is a source of addiction for some individuals, it can also be that for the government,'' said the Rev. Bennie Whiten, Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ president.

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The clergy said state government should be more creative in revenue-raising plans. ``The quick-fix temptation of casino gambling to address the scarcity of resources is no better than the government thinking it, too, will win the lottery if it just plays often enough,'' said the Rt. Rev. David Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. ``...[I]n the end, we'll be worse off than if we never even tried.''

In what they see as a dangerous social trend, the clergy noted that more states are becoming dependent on gambling for revenues. Four years ago, just New Jersey and Nevada had casino gambling. Now, 23 states have it and 12 more are considering it. In the Bay State, Mr. Weld, who opposes raising taxes, wants casino gambling to pay for a proposed $700 million stadium/convention center ``megaplex.''

He says the facility will bring thousands of jobs and an economic boost to the state, which has four racetracks and a lottery. ``The state crossed a bridge long before this administration came into office by founding a lottery and having a vibrant horse-racing industry,'' Weld spokeswoman Virginia Buckingham says. ``[That] industry provides thousands of people with jobs, and the lottery supports cities and towns financially.''

But clergy say addictive gambling can have a severe negative impact on communities and families, hurting mostly the poor. It also incurs state costs. ``Who will be paying the added welfare costs for the many families and individuals who have - in the fever of the moment or as a result of addiction to gambling - overextended themselves?'' Mr. Johnson asks.

Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and Treasurer Joseph Malone oppose Weld's plans. Mr. Harshbarger says a regulatory and law-enforcement structure to oversee gambling would result in huge state costs. In New Jersey, for example, casino operators pay state fees of $60 million-plus a year to cover costs required to regulate and police the 12 casinos, says Tom Samoluk, a spokesman for Harshbarger's office.

The Rev. Linda Spoolstra, executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, says Massachusetts should seek other means to fund the proposed megaplex.

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