Gambling interests aim to taint Branson by planting a casino
By Allen Palmeri
September 23, 2003
BRANSON – Proponents of a Rockaway Beach casino have a $5 million war chest and high hopes that they will gather enough signatures to put the issue up for a statewide November 2004 vote they think they can win.
While proponents are banking on money, opponents of the casino are relying on faith.
"God is a God who treasures the opportunity to work through the underdog," said Jim Locke, pastor of First Baptist Church, Forsyth. "We have the capability. The battle is the Lord’s."
Proponents must gather 123,469 verifiable signatures by May 1. Representatives of Southwest Casino and Hotel Corp., the Minneapolis-based company that wants to place a casino in Rockaway Beach, are already hard at work gathering those signatures.
Pastors are praying for their family-friendly homeland to be spared the ravages of organized gambling.
"Gambling is a bad bet," said Jay Scribner, pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson, for nearly 26 years.
Scribner said gambling ruins a community spiritually, economically, morally and socially. The gambling syndicate won big by securing St. Louis and Kansas City, but they need to quit while they are ahead.
"Branson gambling is one of the worst things that could happen to gambling in the state," Scribner said. "Gambling in Branson will be a major detraction from gambling in St. Louis and Kansas City.
"We have seven million tourists who come here. Many of them prior to this time have stopped in St. Louis and Kansas City for a one-day stop on the riverboats. If they come to Branson to gamble, they’ll just bypass St. Louis and Kansas City."
Missouri has 11 casinos. Eight are in the Kansas City or St. Louis areas.
Both the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Branson Board of Alderman have declared their opposition to the planned casino. At stake is Branson’s national reputation as "a very fine, fun, family entertainment venue with good family values," Scribner said, "a place where children and grandparents alike can sit in a theater and not be offended by what they see on stage."
A casino in Rockaway Beach, which is located northeast of Branson on Lake Taneycomo, would in no way enhance the family entertainment culture of Branson, according to Jim Wells, director of missions, Tri-County Baptist Association. Rather, it would poison it.
"It is a detriment to family values," said Wells, who was a pastor in Kansas City when gambling was approved. "If gambling has been such a blessing to the state, why is the state school system still basically broke? It has not delivered what it has promised to communities. Very few people are helped financially by gambling. It is a drain on the economic future of the community."
"Should this thing go through," Locke said, "it could certainly provide the pathway to increase gambling up and down Lake Taneycomo."
The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling identifies eight problems with casinos like the one being proposed for Rockaway Beach:
- Gambling costs far more than it benefits.
- Gambling cannibalizes local businesses.
- Gambling triggers addiction.
- Gambling addiction has become an epidemic among youth.
- Gambling attracts crime.
- Gambling victimizes the poor.
- Gambling presents a bad example to children.
- Gambling corrupts government.
Information on those eight points can be obtained at www.ncalg.org. Click on "The Facts" and go to "The Case Against Legalized Gambling."
"If the local community thinks that it is a remedy for their problems, then they’re just purely speaking out of ignorance," Scribner said.
Missouri Baptists both in and around Branson see this as a fight for their way of life. Locke compares it to the time when Abram took a stand with 318 trained servants (Genesis 14:14) as they went up against an overwhelmingly superior force. By the grace of God, Abram won.
"There is not a sense of hopelessness, not by a long shot," he said.