Jul 3, 2013

Bishop McDonnell says ‘don’t bet’ on casinos for economic solutions



(Catholic Communications file photo)

Following is the complete text of a column written by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell that has been published in the July/August 2013 issue of the Diocese of Springfield’s magazine The Catholic Mirror:

In the coming weeks, as many head out for summer vacation and a break from the everyday hustle and bustle of life, some area residents will also be heading to the polls to cast referendum ballots on whether or not to allow a casino in their community.

The issue of high stakes casinos is a complicated one. Catholic parishes, schools and institutions have depended on charitable bingo games for support. Religious property has been bought by subsidiaries of casino companies. Some see the concerns raised by the bishops of Massachusetts as inconsistent with church practice.

It is important, therefore, to understand what the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, of which I am a part, stated back in September 2011 when we wrote, “while the Catholic Church views gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment when done in moderation, the gaming legislation opens the door to a new form of predatory gaming which threatens the moral fabric of our society.”

It is not sinful to play games of chance, though doing so in excess and to the detriment of one’s family most certainly would be. The key word in the 2011 statement is “moderation.” Bingo games are on a small scale with state regulated payouts. What is now being proposed is vastly different and far more expansive in scope. Almost certainly, given the greater amounts of money involved, a casino opens the door to an increase in social disorders, especially gambling addiction.

Again to reiterate a point in the 2011 statement, “We hope the citizens of the Commonwealth will recognize the difference between a local fund-raiser managed by volunteers and a multi-billion dollar industry.”

Certainly I can understand that in the continuing stagnant economy which we encounter here in western Massachusetts, the attraction of a casino and the promise of new jobs is appealing. Local officials feel strapped with stagnant tax revenues and no easy way to adequately fund schools and provide other necessary public safety and service functions.  

What concerns me is that the lure of this “easy” money has been a distraction from the problems which have arisen in Atlantic City, Reno, Las Vegas, and Connecticut. There have been social problems arising across the country in urban area casinos; all attract their fair share of social ills. Moreover, our state is entering the casino business just as that enterprise is stagnating elsewhere even as close as the Connecticut casinos.

To those who will face this question I ask that you contemplate and consider all the ramifications. Our right to vote is a great privilege, and like all privileges it comes with the responsibility of being informed and willing to accept the responsibility for potential outcomes.

Many good Catholics will, I know, differ on this issue; for my part, while I can understand the difficult circumstances our cities and towns find themselves in economically,  I am fearful that a casino may be one gamble too many for our communities.

Iobserve.org will provide continuing coverage of the casino issue including a story in advance of the July 16 referrendum vote in the City of Springfield. Coverage will also be provided on the July 13 edition of “Real to Reel,” the diocesan television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.

For a complimentary copy of the July/August issue of The Catholic Mirror, call the Catholic Communications office at (413) 732-3175.