Is Gambling an Acceptable Means of Economic Development?

Yesterday, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear began his second term in office as the commonwealth’s chief executive. It began with a push that was central to his first term: casino gambling.

Before a public inauguration ceremony, Beshear told members of the press he would propose a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling in the state. His argument is centered on economic development and protecting the state’s horse racing industry.

From an economic development perspective, Beshear argues casino gambling would bring tourism dollars to the commonwealth which would, in turn, create new jobs. He argues other states (such as West Virginia and Ohio) are benefiting from Kentucky not having casino gambling. Beshear says the horse racing industry would be protected, because of an increase in visitor to the state’s tracks.

With jobs hard to come by, Beshear makes a reasonable argument. But, is allowing casino gambling an acceptable means to the reach the ends of job creation? This is something many will be discussing in the days and weeks ahead.

Here is what the United Methodist Church has to say about the issue. The language comes from our Social Principles, which are statements the church holds regarding many social and economic issues. Regarding gambling, we believe:

Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.

We also believe:

The Church’s prophetic call is to promote standards of justice and advocacy that would make it unnecessary and undesirable to resort to commercial gambling – including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, Internet gambling, gambling with an emerging wireless technology and other games of chance – as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenues or funds for support of charities or government.

Such as is the case with the lottery, casino gambling takes advantage of the poor in order to benefit the desires of government. The poorest in our communities will often take their chances at the casino table in hopes of getting rich in order to move out of their financial situation. By promoting gambling, we are dangling a carrot of riches in the faces of the poor, while taking their money in the process. This is wrong.

At the same time, the increase in gambling in Kentucky will have other costs, such as dependency. How will the state respond to this and other costs, which will impact the already delicate state budget?

Real economic development will not come from a “get rich quick” scheme. Too many families are out of work for gimmick ideas that will, ultimately, add more costs and only hurt those the state claims it wants to help. Casino gambling is a bad idea and poor fiscal policy.

We need sound economic development and strong fiscal policies that will promote job growth in the commonwealth. My hope is that Republicans and Democrats will work together to come up with ways that will do just that.

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