[Diocese of Long Island] In November there will appear a ballot referendum on gambling in New York. The New York City Mayoral candidates and our Governor are all in favor of the referendum’s passage. They make the argument that it will create jobs, and bring prosperity to struggling communities – particularly upstate. But anyone who has ever lived in a region in which Casino gambling was established knows very well that gambling is not a reliable form of economic development. It is a flash in the pan, “cheap grace” as we say in the church, with catastrophic social, moral, and ethical consequences.
In the short run gambling will create service-related employment and initially generate revenue that will quickly bottle-neck as social and behavioral issues replace the economic ills that gambling promises to address. The disproportionate impact on the poor and middle class is extraordinarily unfair as the burden of tax revenue shifts from the wealthy, who can afford to pay taxes, to those who will spend their weekly income gambling. Casino magnate Donald Trump has observed himself that, “people will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally spend on buying refrigerators or new cars. Local business will suffer because they will lose customer dollars to the casinos.” (1)
Rather than focus on the political rhetoric and sound bites from campaigns, let’s examine the facts as they exist: Foxwoods Casino in the Town of Ledyard Connecticut, is not far from where I lived before becoming the Bishop of Long Island. The 200 million dollar state tax revenue generated in 2007 required that 40,000 people lose an average of $234.00 every day, 365 days a year. On the local level there was a net zero increase in social benefits – the increase in drug use, alcohol abuse and related accidents, the increased presence of illegal hand guns and prostitution and related crimes skyrocketed. (2) Even in the face of increased hiring of police and other related emergency services gambling brings the increased pollution of other vices to any community.
Economical development is not a by-product of gambling. The experience of places like Atlantic City proves that middle-class shop owners, restaurants and homeowners pay a terrible price as local community life dwindles in the face of the casino’s presence. In Atlantic City, one-third of local retail businesses closed within the first four years of the casino’s establishment and the number of independent restaurants dropped from forty-eight to sixteen between the opening of the casino and 1997. (3) Gambling is not good for business. It is not good for children or schools or cultural advancement. Gambling is not good for municipalities as it places a tremendous burden on the services local government must provide. It is not good for real estate development, roads, or essential infrastructure. Gambling is not good for people.
I am reminded by my brother bishop in Western Massachusetts – a former resident of Nassau County, that the only time gambling is mentioned in Holy Scripture is at the foot of the Cross when it is accounted that the Roman soldiers cast lots for clothes of a man who literally gave his life for the poor. That reminder persuades me to believe that as a people we can do better to care for the common good, and provide needed and essential services for the people of New York State without creating more venues that further enslave the people we are called to serve. It persuades me to believe that our elected officials can be smarter, more creative, and more faithful in finding ways to pay for programs and services than to rely on the easiest, but most destructive means available. It persuades me to believe that collectively we are a better people than one that might wish to benefit from the overwhelming destruction that gambling will bring to our state.
As a bishop of the church, as a father and husband, it pains me to watch our society seek the quick and easy response to the complex problems that face us as a people. No one who actually examines the history of gambling and its long-term negative effect on communities can say with any faithfulness and sincerity that gambling is good for New York. We need to be honest and clear – if this referendum passes, it will be bad for New York, bad for our local communities, and bad for the people – especially the people we claim to want to serve.
— The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano is bishop of Long Island.