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Last week I was at “The College for Bishops” in Roselyn Virginia.  All new bishops go to this hands-on educational event for one week a year for three years.  I have a lot to learn so I looked forward to this week and the opportunity to catch up with the many friends I have made in this common experience of being church leaders at a challenging time.

One day was an intensive immersion in media relations.  We were grilled by real reporters and our responses were seen on television and critiqued by our classmates.  Reporters like to throw you off guard in creating a story.  One reporter said to me: “You are on this one-man campaign to keep casinos out of Springfield.  What are you – the ‘no-fun’ bishop!”

I responded: “This is far from a one-man campaign.  I am one among many.  Our Diocese voted unanimously – that’s 65 churches – to oppose casino gambling in Western Massachusetts and specifically Springfield.”  Then I went into my rapid-fire New York speedway of talking so he could not get another word in: “I follow Jesus.  In his first sermon Jesus proclaimed ‘I have come to bring good news to the poor and to set the oppressed free.’  Now Springfield has bad news for the poor. A casino right in the heart of the most financially vulnerable place in our city.”  Now I start talking even faster!  “For those who have little, the illusory chance that they can gain much, even in a game stacked against them, is tempting and ultimately destructive.  Our churches stand with the economically poor of our society, and that always means taking a stand against gambling establishments in our cities.”

The reporter was about to break in but I wouldn’t let him.  “Let me tell you about a woman named Shirley (not her real name) who goes to our Loaves and Fishes program at our Cathedral – less than two blocks from the proposed casino.  She works two jobs.  She is raising three kids.  Her husband has a gambling addiction.  She is scared to death that her husband is going to throw away the little they have at that casino.”

Television is all about sound bites so I could not get in more than that.  But I can now.  85% of all casino gamblers live locally.  That means the economically vulnerable of Springfield.  70-80% of all revenues at casinos come from addicted and problem gamblers.  (Now think of the odds that “Shirley’s” husband gets caught in this trap.)  Casinos do not create jobs in the long run.  Sure there will be construction jobs for a while.  Then it is all minimum-wage jobs.  Do you know how much a card dealer makes?  $15,810 – a family of two with that income qualifies for Food Stamps and numerous other government programs that cost Massachusetts tax payers’ money.  Some casinos pay their employees in cash on the morning of payday – tempting them to bet their paychecks as the day goes on.  Casinos do not develop the local economy – the whole point is to keep people IN the casinos, gambling their money.  Of all the casinos built in the United States, none (that is NONE) have improved the quality of life in the local neighborhood.

I could go on – but blogs are supposed to be brief.  For more information, go to

http://www.citizensagainstcasinogaming.com/

And join us at Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield on Wednesday, June 26 at 7:00 pm for an educational event about how the casino will affect life in Springfield.  Political and religious leaders will be speaking.  The vote on the casino will be July 16.

Jesus was and is on a mission to bring good news to the poor.  The casino is bad news for the poor.  We follow Jesus.

And I believe I am a fun bishop!

+Doug