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Bishops urge support of ballot casino repeal

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Casino tycoons assure Bay Staters that they will bring jobs and revenue here, but opponents call their pledge a bluff. The people opposed to expanded gaming in Massachusetts, including the four Catholic bishops, urge citizens to vote "Yes" on Question 3, which would overturn the 2011 law that establishes three casinos and one slots parlor. Question 3 will appear on ballots statewide on Nov. 4.

Gov. Deval Patrick initially promised that the casino law would bring 50,000 jobs. Now, the Coalition to Protect Mass. Jobs, formed in opposition to Question 3, promises 10,000 permanent jobs.

"They've already dialed back from the promises they made only a short while ago," said John Ribeiro, chairman of Yes on 3, adding that he believes even the new numbers are inflated. He said of casinos, "They don't live up to their promises on jobs or revenue."

Those who want to repeal the gaming law say casinos divert money from the lottery and local businesses.

In a report released Oct. 8, the Yes on 3 campaign noted that 20 percent of lottery proceeds go to local cities and towns, but casinos return only 2 percent of their take to municipalities. Multiple studies show that when casinos open, state lottery revenue drops by nearly a quarter, which would cost Massachusetts $103 million annually. Casinos are projected to distribute only $85 million in local aid.

Those who support casinos say the effect on the lottery would be short-lived. They add that tax revenue will go directly to the state as well as municipalities and that casinos' host communities would receive annual payments of tens of millions of dollars.

According to its opponents, expanded gambling also comes at a price -- increased rates of bankruptcy, crime, divorce and suicide. A federal study shows that gambling addiction rates double within 50 miles of a casino. Casinos also draw crowds that disproportionately belong to society's lowest income brackets.

"It's an industry that preys on the weakest among us, the people who can least afford it," said James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy arm for the four bishops in the state.

"The bright lights, the glitz and glamor are attractive," he said. "The promise and excitement of instant riches in reality just doesn't happen."

In their Sept. 15 statement supporting Question 3, the four bishops of Massachusetts said, "While the Catholic Church views gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment when done in moderation, expanded gaming in the Commonwealth opens the door to a new form of predatory gaming. We are concerned that the Commonwealth will be forced to rely on an unstable form of revenue, depending largely on those addicted to gambling."

The proof that casino jobs and revenue are unstable lies in the events in other states. In Atlantic City, N.J., 5 of the 12 casinos are expected to close by the end of the year -- a loss of 10,000 jobs. Closer to home, Connecticut casinos have laid workers off and closed down portions of their facilities.

The bishops also pointed out that when the casino law passed three years ago, the state was in financial crisis; unemployment was at 7.4 percent. The economic climate has since improved, and employment is at 5.5 percent, below the national average of 6.1 percent.

Driscoll called expanded gaming a short-term solution to the long-term challenges of unemployment.

Supporters of Question 3 urge concerned citizens to get involved. Attend an event, talk with friends and donate to the campaign. Get a bumper sticker or yard sign. Sign up to hand out literature, knock on doors or phone voters, they suggest.

Erin Earnst, from Foxborough, has been volunteering for the campaign -- canvasing and placing calls. She said the majority of people she has spoken with are supportive of Question 3.

Many people want to preserve the character of the state -- known for its excellent institutions of higher education, phenomenal medical facilities and high-tech industry.

She called casino culture "a dying industry full of broken promises" that does not blend with the Commonwealth's strengths.

Earnst said that a fundamental tenant of Catholicism is to work toward the good of others. When the casino industry openly admits that they expect a 55 percent increase in problem gambling within a 10-mile radius of a casino, that is unacceptable. In her hometown of Foxborough, that would amount to 250 individuals.

"Those are my neighbors," she said. "Why would I vote to approve something that's going to come in and destroy families, destroy communities?"

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