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My Turn: It’s immoral to sponsor something as detrimental as gambling

I write as interim executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, an organization that represents 10 denominations, including Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Together we have issued a joint statement strongly opposing the expansion of casino gambling – specifically a casino that includes video slot machines.

While there are huge economic arguments for not building “one high-end, highly-regulated casino” in New Hampshire, as Gov. Maggie Hassan has called for, I want to address the moral conversation that is taking place as legislators poise for a vote later this month.

Returning to New Hampshire a few years ago after 25 years in Connecticut, the home of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, I can testify firsthand to the damage such state-sponsored gambling affects on individuals, families and whole communities.

Fully 7 percent of the general population is at risk for additive gambling, namely the unharnessed gambling that lights up machines with an individual’s mortgage money, savings and paycheck. Slot machines, with their combination of stimulating sound and sight, and through a digital play card the user places in the machine (accessing our “play history” and other personal information) are the most addictive of all gaming. Even mitigating these costs by providing for remedial social services, it remains that thousands of lives are forever changed. Such casinos risk personal and family ruin. They tear at the fabric of our common life. Such gaming also encourages its close companions: dire emotional stress and crime. Not only are individuals and their families torn apart – the communities in which they live (many probably within 30 miles) suffer as well.

Casinos offer jobs, but they do not offer lasting jobs or decently paid jobs. We learn from others: Foxwoods now buses in many of its workers now from New York City. The New Hampshire casino bill, SB 152, makes no provision for jobs going to New Hampshire workers.

Building and operating a video slot casino as proposed builds our house upon the sand because it stands on many fronts diametrically opposed to our best ideals.

As a source of income (which will not satisfy the 2013-14 budget cycle in any case and receipts will diminish from there) it is immoral to sponsor activity we know to be detrimental to our citizens. Such an enterprise encourages the notion that we can gain not primarily by way of hard work and right living, but through chance. This undertaking undermines the first mandate of government, which is “to maintain order, preserve justice, and promote the common good.” (See our full “Joint Statement on Gambling” at NHChurches.org.)

Legislators need to hear from us on this issue. This is a moral issue that has the potential to deeply affect our citizens. They are hearing only one side – “We need the money!” When we call we can tell them we are behind them, and we can encourage our legislators to vote – not their fears – but their highest convictions.

God will bless us for seeking other, legitimate and life-giving sources of income.

(The Rev. Linda Lea Snyder of Nottingham is interim director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches.)

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