Casino Gambling

Discussions and debate about casino gambling have been going on for decades in New York State. In recent weeks, nonetheless, announcements and rumors about legalizing casino gambling in Western New York appear to be running ahead of and short circuiting necessary discussion.

Once again casino gambling is hailed as the quick fix, the magic bullet, the windfall that will lift the local economy to dream like levels of fortune. We know, however, from actual experience around the United States in recent years that those dreams too often become cruel nightmares. The best that can be said is that their economic success is highly debatable.

The issue of casino gambling forces us to look at deeper questions of character and spirit in a community. What does casino gambling do to our soul? The record is compelling: dramatic rises in street crime, prostitution, rapes, robberies, murder, car thefts. Organized crime follows casino gambling as night the day.

Take time. Listen to the stories. Older people lose their retirement nest eggs. Families break down. Jobs are lost. Businesses go bankrupt. Corruption eats away at government. The poor suffer devastating consequences.

Talk to religious leaders and other community leaders in parts of the United States that have casino gambling. I have. Listen to them describe the way it corrodes the moral fiber of a society. Hear those with insight as they point out in frightening detail the corrosive impact it has on the minds of young and old alike. Let them relay the accounts of parents trying desperately to strengthen religious schools and education programs to combat the pervasive effects of casino gambling in the tone of a community. Parents enroll their children for Catholic schools at Baptism. Hear how materialism overwhelms, how the constant seeking for a windfall eclipses the work ethic and the tougher but more rewarding pursuits of the human spirit.

Look at the studies. According to the National Council on Compulsive Gambling, 5 to 8 percent of people who play games of chance become compulsive gamblers, with another 15 to 20 percent gambling beyond a normal degree. The Council reports that more than half of compulsive gamblers rely on illegal means to support their habit.

Casino gambling is a pernicious cancer. Once a community contracts it, or makes a compact with it, it grows, and grows, and grows. And the pathology of addiction grows with it.

A 1995 survey by the Gaming Research Group found that United States adults who have a casino in or near their communities are more than twice as likely to gamble at a casino as are those who live at least 100 miles from one.

Everyone knows that the needs for economic development in Western New York are acute. Some recent accomplishments are encouraging, but there is a long way to go. When people have a sense of economic desperation, there is a temptation to fall easily for the allure of the seemingly quick fix. On the strictly economic level there are large questions as to the benefits of casino gambling. In addition to what has already been stated, factor in the infrastructure expenses, the regulating costs (which increase and increase), the expenses to the criminal justice system, and the immense social welfare costs. Where in the world have the social welfare expenditures been able to repair the human damage caused by casino gambling?

In the larger economic picture Western New York has enormous resources. Space constraints prevent a full bill of particulars here, but look at just two for now and for the coming century: energy and fresh water. Wide areas of the United States and many countries of the world are currently facing critical shortages of both, and the emergencies will become chronic. We have immediate access to abundant resources of both. They worked for us in the twentieth century. Creativity, hard work, technology, and character can make for a brighter twenty-first century.

Or we can add to the list of places already labeled, "Sin City."

The so-called quick fix, easy solution, shortcut, can short circuit our potential. Even if there were economic gains from casino gambling, and there are serious reservations about that, the haunting theme remains: what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our soul?

It is a matter of soul.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
July 16, 2001