Bishops oppose gambling bill

BRAINTREE -- Massachusetts’ Catholic bishops are again questioning the value of expanded gambling in the state, saying that it will not effectively deal with the state’s unemployment problem and that casino gambling is a predatory business.

On April 5, a joint legislative committee, by a 12-2 margin, approved House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s (D-Winthrop) bill to license two resort-style casinos in Massachusetts and 750 slot machines at the state’s four racetracks. Five committee members abstained from the vote. The bill would also reauthorize simulcast racing at each of the state’s race tracks until July 2014.

The House is expected to debate the measure next week.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s four dioceses, are opposing the bill because they say gambling is a predatory business with negative social consequences. They also question the timing of the bill and say expanded gambling is not an effective solution to today’s economic problems.

“I don’t think it’s good public policy,” said Kathy Davis, Public Policy Coordinator of MCC.

Davis and MCC executive director Ed Saunders, acknowledged the effort would bring short-term construction jobs to the area, but said Connecticut’s casinos have been laying off workers recently. It is presumed that some of those ready-trained workers will seek out the new Massachusetts casino jobs.

“Massachusetts can do better than expanding an industry that preys on human weakness for profit,” Davis said.

Saunders suggested that state lawmakers should focus on attracting new businesses and luring new businesses to remain in Massachusetts.

“If you can strengthen the business community, you strengthen employment,” Saunders said.

Saunders also pointed out federal law allows Native American tribes to open their own casinos in states that allow casino gambling. This, he said, potentially opens the door to an additional six casinos in the state.

According to materials released by Speaker DeLeo’s office, the act is expected to create 15,000 jobs, require private capital investments from each casino and race track, levee upfront licensing fees from each casino and race track, require accountability and oversight, and establish funds for community aid and addiction treatment.

“The intention to help people who are unemployed is definitely appreciated. However, it is misguided,” Davis said. “Expanding predatory gambling is not public policy that is helpful to the people of the commonwealth.”