By Dr. Mark Creech, executive director
Christian Action League
“Money talks,” says an old proverb. But when it comes to the expansion of gambling, it’s more like something Bob Dylan once said, “Money doesn’t just talk, it swears.”
Opened in 1997 under a 1994 compact negotiated by then-Gov. Jim Hunt, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is currently in the midst of a $650 million expansion project, and for quite some time the tribe has been pushing the state to allow for Class III, Las Vegas style gambling as opposed to the video-based games that they currently offer.
The Cherokee have been arguing the new games would create hundreds of new jobs at the casino, bring more tourists to western North Carolina and increase collateral spending on area hotels and businesses in the region.
Those arguments resonated with Governor Bev. Perdue last month when she struck a deal with the Eastern Band under a new compact granting them “exclusive live table gaming rights west of Interstate 26.” In exchange for these exclusive rights, they would pay the state between 4 and 8 percent of gross gambling revenues for the next 30 years. The revenues would go directly to school districts and be used for classroom instruction. The Cherokee would also be given the right to open additional casinos on tribal lands (a five county area) after notifying the Governor and agreeing on revenue sharing that could be as high as 8 percent of gross revenues.
None of this, however, can become a reality without the North Carolina General Assembly’s approval. Something the leadership has signaled it supports, which is most difficult to understand. It was the Republican leadership that was the stalwart opposition to a state operated lottery in 2005 and has supported efforts in the past to ban video poker and sweepstakes gambling across the state.
Could this change of position reflect money talking too?
Democracy North Carolina, a campaign finance watchdog group, reports the Cherokee have given quite generously to both the Democratic and Republican parties. Nearly $700,000 has been contributed to state legislative candidates and committees within just the last two legislative bienniums.
Again, money talks and the pressures on lawmakers to approve the new compact are great.
Nevertheless, if the compact is approved the stakes are high. The expansion will, without question, draw a riskier clientele than the current video-based games and increase the number of problem gamblers in North Carolina, as well as attract more of the same from other states. Families affected by problem gambling are at greater risk for divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, crime and suicide.
According to “Winner Takes All” by Wall Street Journal reporter Christina Binkley, casinos are the most predatory business in the country, making 90 percent of their profits off of 10 percent of their customers who are addicted to the forms of gambling they promote.
Granted, Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee has employed a lot of people and proven to be a boon for the area’s economy. But it should be noted the casino can only milk existing wealth. It does nothing to create new capital, and all the prosperity the Cherokee are now enjoying is basically a redistribution of monies syphoned off of other economies.
And, yes, the casino has provided jobs to the area, but they are jobs without justice. The failed energy giant Enron, subprime lender Countrywide Financial and jailed investment manager Bernie Madoff are all examples of industries that provided people with employment and made a lot of money. Yet who believes these kinds of predatory business practices are the right direction for North Carolina? Neither would an expansion of the vulturine ways of casino gambling be right, even when “virtue-ized” by hitching it to public education.
Moreover, gambling revenues never turn out to provide real help for education. In an editorial opposed to the Cherokee expansion, the Raleigh News and Observer rightly warned: “[L]et’s talk about the benefits, specifically money for education. Sure, it will come in, just as lottery money does. But as financial crisis arise, as they do from time to time, that money will become vulnerable to a raid by lawmakers who will argue that it is needed for more pressing things. Or, those who hold the purse strings in the General Assembly will use the gambling proceeds to substitute for regular appropriations, not as supplemental money to make schools better.”
Still, money talks.
This is why the lure of such ill-gotten gain must be zealously countered by the compassionate admonishments of God’s people, who not only argue gambling is a failed government policy, but also contend gaming in any form is a misuse of God’s resources.
Gambling maximizes covetousness and minimizes stewardship. It turns men from the worship of a benevolent Sovereign God, promoting pagan superstition and the gods of luck and chance. It is a method of theft by mutual consent – something that isn’t moral just because two people agree to it. It diminishes brotherly love, justice and mercy because it preys upon the weakness of one’s fellowman – generally taking from those who can least afford financial or emotional losses. And last, but certainly not least, it undermines a strong work ethic, which is the very hope of true prosperity for any culture.
Christian people must not be silent on this matter. What is more, if they don’t want their voices drowned out by money’s swearing – avowing western North Carolina and state education would be huge beneficiaries of the Governor’s new compact with the Cherokee – they’ll have to speak loud and demonstrative by talking directly with their lawmakers in both the N.C. House and Senate.
Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene for a special session Wednesday, January 4, 2012 and are expected to take up a veto override concerning the Racial Justice Act. Another special session is also scheduled for Thursday February 16th. It is difficult to tell when or whether they will take up the proposed gambling expansion during those two special sessions. Therefore, contact your lawmakers as soon as possible.
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A slightly different version of this article was first published for Baptists in the Journal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Biblical Recorder, December 20, 2011.