by Anne Hughes
While many clergy and faith leaders were ‘wrapping up’ Advent and Christmas preparations this week, a lively group of 35 interfaith lay and clergy leaders showed up, ready to engage, at the Connecticut Conference headquarters in Hartford on Dec. 20 for the first meeting of the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in CT.
This meeting, organized by Legislative Advocate Michele Mudrick and The Very Rev. Miguelina (Lina) Howell, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, also marked the first in-person participation of the Conference's new Advocate Corps. While many (like myself) were unaware of the pending legislation to open up casino gambling to commercial venues and off-reservation towns in the state, by the time we left 2 hours later, we had collectively determined to sound the alarm bells to our communities, our circles of faith, and especially to our legislators, about the devastation and danger of problem gambling to our surrounding communities and the short-lived economic gains of part-time employment that casinos offer.
We may have walked in as onlookers, but we walked out as ‘upstanders’, inspired by the leadership and collaborative work of Michele and former Congressman Bob Steele, (nomorecasinosinct.org). The fledgling coalition members learned how such an expansion would disproportionately affect low-wage earners, minorities and the elderly, those who would suffer most. They also learned how other communities that have legalized regional casinos, including Atlantic City, Ledyard, and upstate New York, reflect none of the economic gains promised to their local towns, with the exception of proliferation of pawn shops. Atlantic City, for example, no longer has a single grocery store within its city limits to feed its inhabitants.
I was immediately impressed with the broad representation of groups present, from Family Institute of CT to The New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to the CT League of Women Voters, and by the immediate willingness to be creative about engagement on this issue. I learned that casino commercial expansion in CT could easily slip into the CT Legislature’s agenda and under the public’s radar, presented as a panacea for the State budget woes while ignoring the grave social costs of preying on CT’s most vulnerable - those at risk becoming problem gamblers.
Proximity and convenience of casino and commercial gambling increases those at risk of this highly addictive and costly enterprise, especially younger customers and older women. It increases costs and strains on mental health systems, contributes to increases in incidents of embezzlement at places of work, and contributes to bankruptcy, job loss, family neglect, foreclosures, and an increase of suicide.
At the meeting, Conference Minister The Rev. Kent Siladi gave a brief summary of the history of Conference Annual Meeting Resolutions against casino/gambling expansion, not due as much to morality concerns about the nature of gambling, but the systemic ethics and morality of preying on vulnerable citizens. While the state will see an early windfall of revenue, that becomes a zero-sum economic loss over time due to the high cost of social and human capital, measured in costs of addiction devastation wreaked on families and communities at the profit of developers. This perceived ‘win’ further erodes legislators' attention from developing living wage jobs that don’t simultaneously risk families’ savings, earnings and health.
Former Congressman Bob Steele, who represented the Eastern CT district where two of the biggest casinos in the country, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, are located, presented compelling evidence and expertise about the economic and social costs to expanding casino gambling. He noted that revenues from these casinos are down 40%, as almost 1000 commercial casinos across the country have opened up in 26 states, and Connecticut's two casinos have eliminated 8000 jobs. The off-reservation and commercial expansion would be marketed as convenience locations, targeting new gamblers at risk of becoming problem gamblers, who make up 35-50% of casino revenue, especially with the expansion of highly addictive modern slot machines, designed to ensure the longer you play, the more you lose.
It is unlikely a Hartford, Fairfield County or Windsor Locks casino would attract out-of-state customers, due to the new MGM opening up in Springfield, MA and those recently opened in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, but instead would essentially impose a ‘regressive tax’, draining wealth from local citizens, especially targeting economically insecure, unemployed and older and often more socially isolated neighbors. Bob Steele’s startling statistic that the future of gambling is young people, rapidly overtaking casinos’ current catering to older single/divorced women, was matched only by the other revelation that only state-sponsorship of casinos contributes to dramatic income inequality. This push to expand casino gambling is driven by those who will certainly profit, not the customers, the public or even the State of Connecticut. Who are those who profit most, if not the members of the tribal nations? This is something the Coalition will explore as we urge those legislators currently supporting casino expansion to hear from their constituents as to why their position does not serve their communities they represent.
I was a little skeptical, in light of the overwhelming threats facing All God’s Children in this new post-election climate, where Connecticut casino expansion fit in. I didn’t know if this was going to be the most important threat facing our towns and neighbors this legislative season, yet casino expansion may well be a bell-weather example of a power and money grab on the backs of those who can least afford it, and suffer the most, as more resources, health care access, mental health, and economic resources are in jeopardy. If we can stop casino expansion in CT, and convince our legislators that their support of expansion is a conflict of interest in protecting the public, then we can stop other long-term threats to our health, rights, and community well-being. We need to engage together and form the coalition of change, wherever the threats are, and wherever the momentum and willingness to show up and engage occurs. And when a bunch of faithful clergy, lay and organizational leaders show up on Christmas week to do just that, this is indeed, where it’s at. Advent work is about cultivating hope. Join the Coalition and/or the Advocacy Corps as part of your New Year’s call to hope and join us in showing up.
Check out the coalition’s Facebook Page or Website to stay informed.
The Coalition's next meeting is January 31 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM at Christ Church Cathedral, 45 Church St, Hartford and via Zoom for those that can’t make the meeting in person. Please join us, or contact Michele Mudrick at MicheleM@ctucc.org to become an Advocacy Corps member or/and get on the email list for advocacy alerts regarding the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in CT.
May we seek a just peace and continue to proclaim the Good News of the Prince of Peace in the face of implicit and explicit threats and injustice, both economic, racial, and social, while we strive to protect and empower All God’s Children as beloved, worthy and welcome.
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