Many residents and leaders starting to ask, ‘Is this who we are?’
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
July 24, 2014
KINGS MOUNTAIN — The battle to keep a proposed Catawba Indian casino out of Cleveland County has cranked up another notch after nearly 200 people heard from Stop Predatory Gambling’s Les Bernal during three meetings sponsored by the Kings Mountain Awareness Group (KMAG) earlier this month.
While giving residents answers about what they might expect if a 16-acre site off I-85 is turned into a gambling mecca, he also raised an important question — “Is this who we are?”
“Back during the Great Depression, we used to encourage people to buy savings bonds, to invest in their country,” he said, comparing that push toward thrift and savings with the failed public policy experiment of government sponsored gambling.
He said predatory gambling creates financial, social and civic inequality.
“There is a reason that casinos target communities that are economically challenged, because they are the region’s most desperate for opportunity,” Bernal said. He said slot machines that target middle-and low-income people, including many retirees, provide 70 to 80 percent of casino profits.
“This is a business built upon the idea of people losing money, a model based upon people who are addicted,” he added, explaining that VIP programs and other casino incentives that lure in casual gamblers are designed to increase their visits to four to five times per week.
While many Cleveland County residents, including elected officials, have touted the Catawbas’ plan to bring in some 4,000 jobs, Bernal warned that those jobs come with an extremely high price tag.
He said in Illinois, more than 11,000 citizens had put themselves on self-exclusion lists, meaning they admit they are addicted to gambling and don’t want to be allowed inside a casino again, while the industry has created jobs for only about 7,300 people.
“We need the jobs here, but then you’re looking at a heck of a lot more addicts,” he said. “These are people you work with or go to church with. How do you have a public policy that renders people expendable?”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League who joined Bernal at KMAG’s July 17 pastors and lay leaders luncheon, told the crowd that gambling violates two of the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not covet), oppresses the poor and needy, undermines stewardship and the work ethic and fosters a lack of faith in God.
Already an opponent to gambling, the Rev. Wes Brown from First Wesleyan in Bessemer City said the presentations from Bernal and Creech were informative and inspiring. Brown said the two speakers “hit it out of the park.”
“Are we a people given to luck and chance and gambling rather than stewardship, generosity and hard work?” Brown said, reflecting Bernal’s core challenge. “Is this really who we are?”
“What I plan to do is to try to get pastors in the Bessemer City area organized in opposition,” he said. He also plans to speak at the Bessemer City Council meeting Aug. 11 to ask officials to pass a resolution against the casino.
Similarly, Dana Wagner of Mooresboro and Tammy Kapoor of Kings Mountain fear what a casino and its fallout could do to their friends and neighbors. Both came away from KMAG’s July 16 ladies breakfast with a fierce determination to share what they’d learned and incite others to the cause.
“We’re not telling people not to have an office pool on the Super Bowl. We’re talking about something that can be compared to predatory lending and all the trouble that it caused,” Kapoor said. “These jobs that may come with the casino are at the cost of your neighbor’s paycheck.”
Since the breakfast, she has already brought the issue up twice at her church, Emmanual Baptist, has posted a number of links on social media as a way to inform friends about the dangers of casino gambling and plans to talk to Kings Mountain Mayor Rick Murphrey to try to change his stance.
Wagner said she found the breakfast very “eye-opening” and that she had already carried the message back to Cornerstone Baptist in Mooresboro, started gathering signatures on petitions and circulating letters to be sent to senators and congressmen.
“We’re on the opposite side of the county from where the casino would be, so I originally thought it wouldn’t affect us,” Wagner said. “But when he gave stats and details of how casinos draw people in I was very shocked.”
That shock led her to bring others to KMAG’s July 17 community forum, where Bernal told them they were part of a national movement to reverse public policy that relies on predatory gambling. He said the gambling industry often leads communities to believe that casinos are inevitable.
“The easiest way to get someone to give up their power is to make them think they don’t have any,” he told the crowd, reminding them that the Catawba casino, which has yet to be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is far from a “done deal.”
KMAG leaders Adam and Cynthia Forcade echoed Bernal’s comments and encouraged attendees at all three events to get busy exercising their power. Not only did they provide petitions and letters for people to circulate and send to lawmakers, they also garnered support for an upcoming protest outside the Kings Mountain City Council meeting.
KMAG members will gather Tuesday night on the lawn outside City Hall. They have filed a permit for the event, which requires them to stand at least 15 feet apart, avoid the sidewalk and carry signs no larger than 24-by-24 inches.
The Forcades said anyone interested in taking part should contact them via the Kings Mountain Awareness Group Facebook page or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Spaces are limited.