Casino Gambling - Again

Two years ago I devoted this column to the problems of casino gambling. Before that column was published, and since, I have spoken on television, radio, and at local meetings about casino gambling. Back in the 1970s, I was involved at the State level in discussions on the same issue.

I have highlighted the dire consequences of casino gambling in many parts of our country: dramatic rises in street crime, prostitution, rapes, robberies, murder, car thefts. The specter of organized crime lurks in the shadows.

We have been reading the studies: 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. More than half of compulsive gamblers rely on illegal means to support their habit.

We can affirm now with even stronger conviction that 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. Look around us: lotteries multiplying across the state, video lottery terminals (slot machines) metastasizing around us, one casino site established and threatening to be cloned into two others in the near future.

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.

The Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls has been operating now for seven months. Already we hear that heavy percentages of its patrons are coming from our local area. Now people speak of a casino in Cheektowaga or Buffalo! In Western New York we like to talk about how many places we can reach in 15 minutes! Why does a gambling casino have to be one of them?

Casinos are predatory. They prey on the poor, the elderly, the young, and on people of all ages who are vulnerable to addictive behavior. Many have called casinos a special tax on the poor. Their claims have merit when statistics consistently show that the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on gambling than any other economic group.

For many years we have been reading the stories of older people losing their retirement nest eggs and their homes through casino gambling. We don't have to go to the media for those accounts now. We know the victims of that terrible destruction in our own communities and neighborhoods. What we may not fully appreciate is the quiet horror these people face every day. Families break down, jobs are lost, businesses go bankrupt. Temptation grows stronger for corruption to eat away at government. The pathology spreads.

We all know the need for economic development in Western New York. We are only too aware of the need for better paying jobs. Western New York has been built over the generations by hard work, a renowned work ethic, and a spirit of generous self-sacrifice. Quick fixes, easy solutions, and shortcuts rarely work.

Why have not the customary legislative procedures been followed in regard to casino gambling in New York State? To legalize casino gambling in New York State as such requires the vote of two successive State legislatures and a referendum across the State. Polls show that people are more than apprehensive regarding the consequences of legalized casino gambling.

The strategy has been to circumvent these requests. The plan has been to enter into compacts with Indian natives to put casinos on their lands or on properties which can be turned over to them. Do the people of Erie County really want a casino in the county?

It is a matter of spirit. Civilization enjoys its finest hours defending, nurturing, and supporting the weakest and most vulnerable among us, not preying on them.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
July 25, 2003