Magazine article Insight on the News

Christians Say No Dice

Magazine article Insight on the News

Christians Say No Dice

Article excerpt

One Sunday in February, Barbara Knickelbein of Glen Burnie, Md., lingered at her United Methodist church for a meeting following the service. Knickelbein hadn't thought much about the issue at hand -- casino and riverboat gambling -- but what she heard, she didn't like.

The Maryland General Assembly is about to take up the question of legalized gambling. "We had slot machines in Glen Burnie in the 1950s," Knickelbein recalls. "We did not like the crime that came along with them." That morning, Knickelbein became an antigambling activist, one of a growing number of Americans -- tens of thousands -- whose opposition to legalized gambling springs from religious principles. As one Methodist bishop puts it, high-stakes gambling threatens "the values of human worth, fair and honest labor and the stewardship of God's precious gifts to use."

Last year, interdenominational religious groups joined with commercial interests -- restaurant owners who fear loss of clientele to casinos, for example -- to defeat legalized gambling bills in Colorado, Rhode Island and Florida. Earlier this year, similar groups -- whose members use fax machines to exchange information with each other and the Alabama-based National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling -- caused state legislators in Virginia and West Virginia to table bills supporting riverboat and casino gambling.

The fight has been comparatively easy -- given the resources of the gaming industry. Harvey's Casino Resorts and Harrah's spent $16.5 million in Florida yet lost a vote by nearly 2-to-1. At least 10 high-profile lobbyists have been hired to promote gambling in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. And they come bearing potent lures: jobs for ailing economies and revenue for depleted budgets.

Meanwhile, antigambling activists have had to mount their attacks with slingshots. Church members in Virginia persuaded the conservative Christian Coalition to kick in half of the bus fares for them to travel to Richmond to demonstrate against a gambling bill. West Virginians helped to table a similar measure by distributing antigambling broadsides.

The most potent lure, at least for legislators, is the 20 percent tax that governments routinely levy on casinos. During the first year of gambling, for example, Missouri state and local governments divvied up more than $70 million in taxes collected from gambling and admission prices to riverboats -- not much when compared to the total Missouri sales-tax income of $9 billion, but nonetheless real cash to beleaguered legislators. …

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