Church opposes slots bill

BOSTON — Members of the House are scheduled to vote April 5 on a bill that includes a proposal to place up to 2,000 slot machines in each of Massachusetts’ four racetracks. The bill has already been approved by the Senate.

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm of the Archdiocese of Boston, announced their opposition to this proposal and to the expansion of gambling in the Commonwealth last October.

“The Church sees gambling as something neutral, a legitimate recreational activity when done in moderation. However, we also see that in gambling, especially in casinos and high stakes lotteries, there are increased dangers and abuses that warrant vigilance and concern. There is no doubt that gambling can victimize the poor and often surpass ‘legitimate recreation,’” the statement said.

The MCC stated further that the state should not depend on gambling for resources to pay for needed services and said that it hopes to rely on games of chance less in the future.

“We acknowledge that some of our schools still rely upon revenue from bingo and other games of chance. We seek to lessen that reliance in the future,” the October statement said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2413 states that, “Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming enslavement.”

“The expansion of gambling really has the potential of victimizing those who can least afford to gamble,” Edward F. Saunders, executive director of the MCC, told The Pilot on March 28. “It’s the bishops’ concern for those individuals that causes them to oppose slot machines at race tracks that just make gambling more accessible to those who are more likely to be hurt by it.”

Rep. Daniel Bosley, D-North Adams, also opposes the bill, saying that it does not make good statewide public policy.

“We are clearly concerned about the social policy of what increased gambling means. As everybody knows, gambling is done disproportionately income-wise,” he said. “It’s a very regressive way to gain revenue in the state.”

Not only is it regressive but it will not bring the revenue proponents promise. They have condensed the bill to “bumper sticker slogans” like — “Save the tracks” and “Bring our money back from Connecticut” — but the issue is not that simple, he added.

The slot machines will not save the racetracks, bring money back from Connecticut and won’t increase state revenue, he said.

According to Bosley, Rhode Island legalized slot machines in order to save the racetracks and take money back from Connecticut. However, studies have shown that they do not save the racetrack industry, which is in decline, and that only 12 percent of people from Rhode Island who gambled in Connecticut stopped when slot machines were legalized.

Even if the machines bring in the $400 million sighted by many in favor of the bill, a cost-benefit analysis shows that installing and maintaining slot machines would cost the state more than they would bring in, he said.

“It costs us more to legalize them than we would make in revenue,” Bosley said.

A gambling commission would need to be set up to regulate the slot machines, which would cost at least the amount it costs to regulate the state lottery — $70 million a year. A 1997 study also showed that slot machines would cut into the lottery revenue by 15 percent, which is another $140 million, he said.

Bosley also estimated that increased public safety costs would be $100 million and that the restaurants, bars and jewelry stores that accompany increased gambling would represent economic transfer, not new revenue.

The cost of newly created social problems should also be considered, he said.

“We all agree that we’re going to create some compulsive gamblers. We don’t agree on how many, but everyone admits that increased gambling increases the social cost,” he said.

“We’re going to create more gamblers. Whether you like gambling or not, that takes revenue and redirects it in our economy,” he added. “That’s money that’s already spent in the economy and, quite frankly, probably spent in a more productive manner.”