From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Mennonites examine casino economies
George Conklin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
24 May 1996 19:21:30
May 24, 1996
Mennonite Board of Missions
Contact: Tom Price, director of information
Phone: (219) 294-7523
Casinos reap economic benefits, social ills
GULFPORT, Miss. (MBM) -- Most of what the gaming industry promised the
Mississippi Gulf Coast, it has delivered: more jobs, economic
development, increased tax revenues.
But it's the things the gaming community didn't mention that troubled
community leaders Jan. 26-27 at a "Casino Consultation" here.
"This was kind of a peaceful community," said Gulfport Police Chief
George Payne Jr. "For five years in my city, we had reduced the crime by
double-digits every year."
Now, Payne sees crime increasing almost across the board: arson,
assaults, suicides and attempted suicides as well as embezzlements to pay
off gambling debts.
In one year, arrests for driving while intoxicated increased 131
percent, while drug-related arrests jumped 49 percent. Domestic disputes
"Why do you think domestic disputes are up?" Payne said. "(Casinos)
advertise bring your payroll check here on a Friday night. We'll cash it
for you and give you an opportunity to double your money. ... One out of
500 might win that pool. What happens to the rest of them? They go home
without a paycheck in a lot of trouble."
Bankruptcies increased 300 percent, while the number of pawn shops grew
sixfold to 36. "We did not have a place to hock your car. You can hock
your car at 2 o'clock in the morning now," he said. "I used to think a
wedding ring was something important. You can go to these hock shops and
you can find any kind or color you want."
A strip club recently opened within Gulfport. Two days before the casino
consultation, police shut down "a massage parlor where they did more than
"We had three rapes in one weekend that were directly related to the
casino," he added.
Mississippi law officials also encountered a new phenomenon: false crime
reports. "It is not against the law in Mississippi to make a false
report. We're going to change that law," said Payne, pointing to a flurry
of robberies purportedly occurring along the casino strip.
But the casinos have done more than increase crime statistics.
"You can't drive anywhere in my city in ten minutes anymore," Payne
said. "There is no place to park. There are people walking up and down
the street 24 hours a day."
Retired residents on fixed incomes saw rents nearly double. A local soup
kitchen's meals increased from 70 to 300 per day. The Salvation Army said
casinos send their "guests" to them when they are intoxicated or have
spent all their money. The cash assistance funds from downtown churches
are taxed beyond church leaders' wildest expectations.
Gamblers Anonymous didn't exist along the Gulf Coast; now there are
eight chapters. "For the first year, we never talked face-to-face with a
person who had a problem with gambling," said John Landrum, a chaplain to
Mississippi Beach and its 12 casinos. "All of a sudden in January 1994,
we began to have people come to us."
Despite the negative statistics, Payne is quick to mention the positive
contributions casinos have made:
* The number of police officers doubled while the police budget grew
from $4.2 million to $11 million.
* Harrison County now has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the
* New roads and other infrastructure improvements continue to occur.
"Four years ago, the city of Biloxi was fixing to file bankruptcy. Now,
they have got $12 million to $14 million they don't know how to spend,"
Payne said, noting Gulfport's growth has occurred at a more measured
pace. "We're starting to get so much other industry. If gaming leaves us,
it is going to hurt us but not kill us. If gaming walks out of Biloxi, it
is going to go bankrupt."
But this influx of revenue carries some strings.
"Our economics, our education, is dependent upon the weakness of our
community rather than the strengths of our community," said David Kniss,
pastor of Gulfhaven Mennonite Church. "How do we as pastors and churches
deal with these issues?"
Although new tourism dollars now flow into the region, about half of
casino patrons come from the local community, according to Landrum. "A
lot of the local economy goes through the casino one way or another," he
But some businesses that initially supported the gaming industry now are
having second thoughts.
"When they first sold gaming to us, it was going to be a small-package
deal. They wouldn't compete against local restaurants and bars," Payne
Once opened, casinos offered buffets with $5 steaks and plan even more
virtually unbeatable attractions.
"You are going to come into their resort complex and you ain't going to
leave it," Payne added. "What's that going to do to all the local
"Many communities have been sold a bill of goods without realizing fully
what the impact on the community will be," said Mark Thiessen Nation, a
doctoral student in Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary.
"Once they come into the community, some of the chief leaders in gambling
become the chief leaders in the community. Then, they start shaping what
the community is."
In Gulfport, the manager of the Isle of Capri casino was elected
president of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to
funding improvements in education, the casinos gave a $25,000 grant to
"If you need money, they give it to you -- if you accept it," Payne
said. "They infiltrate your community. There are certain groups in this
community that can't live without them."
"You don't want people leading your community who are leading businesses
that depend upon greed and lack of self-control for the continuance of
their business," Nation added. "Now that they are here, it is going to be
difficult -- if not impossible -- to get them out again."
For communities wrestling with the potential for gambling or an
entrenched gaming community, Nation suggested three responses, quoting
from "The Luck Game." The book's author, Robert Goodman, calls for a:
* National moratorium on the expansion of gambling ventures.
* Limit on the ways in which states and private enterprises can promote
and encourage gambling.
* Review by national and state governments of the impact of gambling.
But Payne, a Presbyterian whose 30-member church choir includes six
casino employees, fears that gaming is in Gulfport to stay.
"These are real smart people. They have come in degrees. They bought the
best ad firms you can buy to sell it, and they sold it. Fifty-five
percent of the people bought it," Payne said. "If you keep getting beat
in the head with it, you begin to accept it."
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