Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stop Slots

I'm back! Sorry for my absence. My husband had an appendectomy on January 4 and that pretty much put me in a hole for the month of January. To anyone who is still reading this blog, I thank you. You are most likely someone I know personally, or you would have given up on me. If I don't know you personally, I would like to!

I went to my first Stop Slots Maryland meeting on Monday Jan. 28. I am opposed to slot machines becoming part of the state of Maryland for many reasons I will list below.

If you live in Maryland (or a nearby state) and care about this issue (or even start caring after reading this post) I invite you to join the effort to be at a primary polling place on February 12, 2008. Details are at the end of this post, after the eloquent, persuasive arguments about why slots are a terrible idea.

First, some basic information about why slots are a terrible idea:
(I have drawn most of these from NoCasiNo Maryland and supplemented with additional research from Stop Slots MD)

+ They don't provide tax relief. In truth, casino gambling and slots drain a community, typically costing taxpayers $1.90 for every $1 collected in revenue.

+ Casino gambling and slots cannibalize the economy of a community, destroying restaurants and retail businesses. Once people are in these venues, they don't leave to patronize local businesses. In addition, money they used to spend locally now goes into a slot machine.

+Political corruption is rampant in states receiving revenue from casinos. Louisiana is just one example of how gambling has corrupted politics even further.

+Burglary, robbery, bad checks, and other crimes always increase dramatically when casinos and slots come to town. Casinos and slots facilities are a convenient front for organized crime to launder money from other activities such as drugs and prostitution. If that sounds extreme, consider that Maryland has already proved this is true when slots were legal in 4 counties from 1949-1968. See below for more information.

+Bankruptcies, divorces, and suicides increase wherever casino and slots gambling is allowed to prey on a community. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune wrote about these effects on Minnesotans.

+Gambling is the fastest growing form of addiction among U.S. teens, women and senior citizens. Slots are the most addictive form of gambling. Between 2-10% of gamblers become addicted. Of those who are compulsive, 1 in 5 commits suicide.

+Gambling is a regressive tax paid primarily by the poor. No government, at any level, has the moral right to raise revenue by preying on the weaknesses of those in society who can least afford it.

+Joseph Napolitan, a political consultant in NJ, was instrumental in bringing gambling to Atlantic City. He now says "This was the was the worst mistake I ever made in 38 years of running campaigns. We assumed it would create thousands of jobs, revitalize the city, restore its economic strength, and make Atlantic City a better place to live. I sincerely thought it would be a boon to AC that was so badly needed. Within 3 years, the crime rate tripled. it went from 50th in the nation per capita crime to the 1st. Forty percent of local restaurants closed. The number of homeless people increased by 2000%. Property values dropped. There was violence. More people went on welfare. Shelters were jammed. An unseemly number of teenagers became gambling addicts. Prostitution was rampant. Anyone who thinks economic problems can be solved by gambling is closing his or her eyes to reality. We made a mistake. Gambling can destroy the heart and soul of a city."

+If gambling revenue projections are accurate (and they are often inflated) then siphoning $200 million out of Cecil County's citizens would not do the average family any good. There is a misconception that if a new gambling venue is built, it will be patronized by existing gamblers who were previously traveling elsewhere. The truth is that local folks who didn't before travel to gamble start to gamble when it is in the neighborhood.

I learned this week that Maryland has already had a thorough trial with slot machines. In fact, the counties where it was legal from 1949-1968 (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's) was known nationwide as "Little Vegas." In 1963, the four counties actually took $24 million in slots revenues, while the highest grossing casino in Vegas took in $20 million. Corruption in government was rampant. Organized crime was a player. Slot machines were everywhere- as one state senator put it, the only place he didn't see them was in churches. State House Speaker Michael Busch grew up in Anne Arundel County and he has used significant political capital to oppose slot machines in Maryland. He knows why this is such a bad idea from personal experience.

At this point, I think it is important to shine some light and hope on this referendum. According the Free State Politics, of the 16 gambling referendums that have gone to ballot, only 5 of them have had results the gaming industry hoped for. This is a fight that can be won.

Eric Luedtke writes in a blog called Free State Politics
Maine, Ohio, Rhode Island, California, Nebraska, and Washington all defeated some kind of slots legalization or expansion. In each of these cases, there was a whole heck of a lot of money poured into the pro-gambling campaigns. But there was also some surprising opposition. In many of these states, existing gambling or business interests opposed the gambling expansion. In the case of California Proposition 70 and Florida Amendment 4, statewide Chambers of Commerce were active opponents of gambling interests. So Maryland progressives may not be as alone as we might think. In Maine, LL Bean and other local corporate interests opposed the authorization of a new harness-racing track and slots operation because it conflicted with the essential character of the state. Maine, like Maryland, has a large tourism industry and a self-image that centers around natural beauty and unique local industries rather than endless rows of people worshipping the one-armed idol. Or put another way, there may be a case to be made that Maryland’s mascot should be the blue crab rather than the slots casino.

The point is this: the gambling industry is not the unstoppable monolith it sometimes seems. Yes, they have a lot of money to throw at ballot questions. But despite the big money, they lose more than they win. If there’s any lesson we learned from the success of Karl Rove over the last few years, it’s that gaining the aura of inevitability is half the battle. If people believe the other side will win, they give up. They stop fighting. And they lose.

Despite what the polling numbers seem to say at first glance, despite support for slots that seems at times to be spreading like a plague across the state, we can win this thing. But we need to fight hard and smart over the next twelve months to get it done.

You might also check out this article. Among other things, it makes the point that by going to referendum, opponents of slots have the chance to put this issue to rest, once and for all.
Maryland Politics Watch: Why Progressives Should Not Punish Legislators Who Voted for the Slots Referendum

Last, but certainly not least, as a United Methodist pastor, I must point out the the UMC is officially opposed to gambling. Paragraph 163 of the Book of Discipline says this:

Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. Where gambling has become addictive, the Church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual’s energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends. The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.

So, if you have read all of that and would like join the grass roots campaign to defeat this referendum when it appears on the ballot in November, then I have good news for you! You're invited to become a member of Stop Slots Maryland. I just became a member, and therefore don't have much experience yet, but I do know that they have been fighting this fight for years, and worked with other pastors I trust. (Right now, the website is being redesigned, but you can add your contact info to the database.) Their plan is to set up tables at as many polling sites as possible around the state on February 12, when the primary elections are held. This involves wearing a T-Shirt, distributing printed literature, and signing up folks who also want to join the effort. This will give a good start at reaching motivated voters and creating a broad spectrum of support to defeat this measure in November.

If you want to participate, please either email me or comment on this post. I will connect you with instructions, resources, etc. I will be at Bohemia Manor and welcome lots of help. I am hoping that since Cecilton Elementary is also nearby, that will be easily staffed too. The pastor in Cecilton, Joe Burris, is also supportive. There are still polling places in the county that are not yet adopted. I look forward to hearing from you.