Casinos, jobs and fuzzy moral thinking
July 20, 2004
Billboards dot the roadside in Missouri assuring us that “Gaming” creates thousands of jobs in the state each year. This promise of jobs is behind the supposedly benevolent motives of civic leaders in Rockaway Beach who want Missouri voters to approve a new casino on the White River. Southwest Casino and Hotel Corporation promises jobs paying in the range of $9 per hour. Furthermore, television advertisements tell us that Rockaway Beach just wants to bring some of the good things to their town that other towns have like nice parks and civic facilities. Why would anyone oppose a small town’s desire to improve itself?
The argument for a new casino in Rockaway Beach is indicative of the fuzzy moral thinking that seems to have our entire country in its grip. Let me explain. It is true that if a casino is built in Rockaway Beach, people will be employed there and they may indeed earn more money in the casino than they would at a fast food restaurant. Furthermore, Rockaway Beach will most likely see an increase in tax revenue and will probably be able to put some new swing sets out for children. The problem is most people never go beyond this point in their moral reasoning about the issue of gambling. To stop the argument here is to pose a false dichotomy: Either Rockaway Beach gets a casino or the whole town goes to the dogs.
Are these really the only two options for Rockaway Beach? Thousands of small towns across America thrive without a casino. They do so by wise fiscal management, creative use of natural resources, good community planning, and a community-wide commitment to a healthy atmosphere for families. Gambling short-circuits thinking in all these areas. Instead of thinking long and hard about what kind of community they want to be and how they can improve in each of these areas, Rockaway Beach turns to a source of revenue that exploits other people. The assumption is that more money, regardless of its source, will solve all of the town’s problems
Gambling appeals to greed in order to survive. In contrast, towns that thrive appeal to more noble virtues. Communities that make a difference encourage people to work and study hard, to exercise their God-given abilities for the betterment of others. In fact, the Bible teaches that we are to live by our own work, not the exploitation of others (Exodus 20:9, Eph. 4:28, 2 Thess. 3:10-12, I Tim. 5:8). Gambling, on the other hand, tells people struggling on the low end of the economic spectrum to come to the slot machine and maybe, just maybe, they will “hit it rich.”
Missouri residents should look long and hard at another economically depressed town that decided casinos would answer all their problems: Atlantic City. As others have well said, prior to the casinos, Atlantic City was a slum by the sea. Now, it is a slum by the sea with casinos. Even in our own state, the casinos along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers were supposed to be a boon to state coffers and solve a myriad of problems. Missouri still has the problems it had before, only now with the addition of casinos. Will one more really be the answer to our state’s needs? (Alan Branch is vice president for student development at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)