The battle isn’t over to oppose casino-style gaming in prince George’s County, according to some local religious leaders.
On Wednesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed legislation that would allow a Las Vegas-style casino into the county.
“I feel disappointed but not disheartened,” said the Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of the Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church in Bowie. “I recognize how the system works in Annapolis.
The bill places the slots issue into the hands of voters.
“We continue to aggressively to oppose slots. Now there will be a referendum and the faith community will really push for people to stand up,” Weaver said.
The bill also calls for table games at the state’s five other authorized slots sites. During the signing ceremony, O’Malley said, “This compromise will put us in a competitive position with surrounding states.”
The vote by the Maryland General Assembly has set up a battle in November over what will be the state’s largest gambling expansion since 2008, when voters authorized five slots sites. While Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Senate President Mike Miller (D) lead the effort for the legislation, their efforts could cost them votes in the future.
“What has caused me some angst is that some of our elected officials really don’t think that the faith community has much influence over our parishioners in terms of slot or what we feel about marriage,” Weaver said. “There is an utter disregard and as a result the old days of coming to our churches and being call out by the pastor is over.”
The Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church, said the slots and same-sex marriage referendum mark a defining moment in the state. “This is going to be a tell tale story of the state of Maryland in terms of morality,” he said.
There are some in the county who question whether or not the ministers are being used by well-financed competing interests within the gaming industry. Maryland Live! opened earlier this year at Arundel Mills. Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in Charles Town, West Va., and Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md., would like to place slots at Rosecroft Raceway, which it owns in Fort Washington while MGM Resorts International has expressed interest to place slots at National Harbor, the waterfront development overlooking the Potomac River.
Thomas, who campaigned against the same-sex marriage bill before it was signed into law earlier this year (the measure hasn’t taken effect; voters will decide in a fall referendum), questions the priorities of lawmakers in Annapolis.
“What are we going to do in terms of rehabilitating those with drug addiction in this state as oppose to just locking up young men? Where are the recreation facilities in the county, I am not talking about big facilities that you have to drive to but local community centers?”
While a number of pastors have been critical of Democratic lawmakers, many seem to be mobilizing to support President Obama in November.
“There is a distinction between the two candidates and we will get out and vote in November,” Weaver said. “People are not just blindly supporting President Obama, there is a growing electorate raising tough questions of President Obama and Republican lawmakers.”
Weaver said the presidential election and referendums regarding slots and same sex marriage are likely to bring more African Americans to the polls and the politicians who worked against the faith community could pay because, “We will not have a short memory in the faith community.”
“In California they voted down same-sex marriage and still voted for president. We certainly voted our convictions. People still support this president because they know he cares for his people as opposed to his opponent.”
While Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney castigated Vice President Joe Biden for making comments to a Virginia group about slavery, the Rev. Patrick J. Walker, president of the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Washington DC and Vicinity, said this will not help the GOP win the black community. “They are reaching for straws.”
“They are looking for anything to alienate the African American vote,” said Walker, who returned last week from the Progressive National Baptist Convention in Memphis.
The denomination formed in the early 1960s as a religious social justice movement. And like many early members and leaders, while in Memphis, conventiongoers marched where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched in the southern city and rallied in front of the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where he was assassinated in 1968; the property is now the National Civil Rights Museum.
“We are mobilizing and hosting voter registration drives across the country because we hear of a disturbing drop numbers of people who are registered to vote,” said Walker, pastor of the New Macedonia Baptist Church in Southeast.
Walker said while African American pastors might have their issues with President Obama and their locally elected officials, the 47-year-old pastor said there is a greater battle for equality that still must be waged. “We are not far removed from those days when people were fighting for integration and tearing down barriers.”