A gamble not worth taking

The bishops of Massachusetts, working together as the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, issued a statement on September 15 urging voters to approve Question 3 on the November ballot. This referendum would put an end to the possibility of having gambling casinos in Massachusetts.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M., Cap., archbishop of Boston, together with the bishops of Springfield and Worcester and Bishop George W. Coleman (who signed as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Fall River, a post which he has until September 24, when Bishop Edgar da Cunha becomes our bishop), signed the document, reminding Catholics and other people of good will why it would be better to ban casino gambling from the Commonwealth.

After recalling how the state passed a law legalizing gambling in 2011, out of a desire to increase jobs and revenue for the government, the bishops then point out what has happened in other states that have gambling in recent years. “As the Commonwealth has recovered, other northeast states where gambling is legal have seen troubling trends in a decline in revenue in their local gambling venues. Casinos in New Jersey and Connecticut are struggling and closing. In fact, it appears likely that five of the 12 casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. alone will be closed by the end of 2014.”

What the bishops mentioned in the last paragraph is not to make more of an  argument against casinos, but is an appeal to people’s practicality — if casinos are failing in other nearby states, what makes us think that they will somehow miraculously do well in Massachusetts?

“Many individuals in those states who heard the same promises of gainful employment in the gaming industry are now losing their jobs. Furthermore, reliance on gambling revenue in neighboring New England states such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine will only increase the pressure and decrease the economic success of the gambling industry in the Commonwealth.” Here again the bishops appeal to the common sense of voters.

Next the bishops warn the public about harm which most likely will arise with legalized casino gambling here. After conceding that “the Catholic Church views gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment when done in moderation” (in other words, going to a casino and gambling a little is not a sin), the MCC warns that “expanded gaming in the Commonwealth opens the door to a new form of predatory gaming. We are concerned that the Commonwealth will be forced to rely on an unstable form of revenue, depending largely on those addicted to gambling. They are the citizens who are already among the ranks of the poorest in the community — the ones who can least afford to gamble.”

One need only look at the data from the Massachusetts State Lottery to see how poorer communities have a much higher expense per capita buying lottery tickets than rich towns. Rich, well-educated people in general know that they might as well throw their money in a furnace than buy tons of lottery tickets. Less educated people, or people with “magical thinking,” are more easily tempted to gamble, even though the odds are against them.

On June 17, 2013 Pope Francis spoke to a diocesan convention in Rome and said, “Each one of us can think in silence of people who live with no hope and are steeped in profound sadness from which they struggle to emerge, believing they have found happiness in alcohol, in drugs, in gambling, in the power of money, in sexuality unbridled by rules. However they find themselves even more disappointed and sometimes vent their rage against life with violent behavior unworthy of the human being. How many sad people, how many sad people without hope!” Do we want to add to those problems in Massachusetts? As one local police chief said years ago, “We have enough problems with addiction around here. We do not need to add to it.”

This bishops concluded their statement with this call to action (on November 4): “The gambling industry threatens local businesses, weakens the moral fabric of society, and fundamentally alters communities for decades to come. Three destination resort casinos and a ‘slots’ parlor will saturate the entire state, diminishing our rich heritage and history. There is too much at stake for Massachusetts to open the door wide to expanded gaming — Massachusetts can do better. Massachusetts can say ‘no’ by voting ‘yes!’ We urge the citizens of Massachusetts to vote ‘Yes’ on Ballot Question 3 and stop the expansion of predatory gambling.”

We echo that call here at The Anchor, so as to preserve what is good in the entire state and especially to protect the cities and towns within the Diocese of Fall River which would be irreparably harmed if casinos were located in them.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts