“Slots, Pinballs Will Be Illegal After May,” was the banner headline of the June 20, 1968, edition of the long-defunct Maryland Gazette newspaper. While the copy of the newspaper someone recently gave me is quite dated, I strongly believe the sentiment expressed in that front page article is just as relevant today: The harmful effects of expanded gambling in Prince George’s County, in this instance with the addition of a proposed casino at either National Harbor or Rosecroft Raceway, will hardly solve the current economic challenges facing us.
Some elected officials have touted that a casino will ultimately generate millions of dollars for the county annually and create many new jobs. However, what of the enormous cost to individuals, families and communities that will be adversely affected by the inevitable rising crime rate, greater amounts of addictions, and consequently more homeowners being pushed to foreclosure? Is this the panacea for our current fiscal dilemma, to generate revenue by having persons lose money through the pernicious activity of gambling, only to have jurisdictions forced to allocate more money to address the problems created by individuals patronizing a proposed casino? I hardly think so, especially when other, far more effective means, such as supporting the expansion of existing businesses, utilizing our creative talent to broaden our research and development capacity, and seeking more aggressively, federal agencies to relocate to the county, could be applied to solve our financial crisis.
As a pastor and resident in Prince George’s County for over twenty-four years, I find myself contacted weekly, in increasing numbers, by members and non-members, who are facing adverse financial conditions because of downsizing and layoffs, threatened with evictions, foreclosures and cut-off notices from utility companies. Many of my colleagues in the faith community have expressed similar encounters. All of us take seriously our calling and response of meeting the pressing needs of those who are hurting within our neighborhoods — people burdened by depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, re-entry challenges and other maladies — and yet our resources are being stretched thinly. Now, with the possibility of a twenty-four hour casino, located within minutes of county residents already in an economically vulnerable position, coupled with loosening alcoholic beverage laws, the current social and economic crisis facing the faith community and the county as a whole would only be exacerbated.
Even more troubling to many of us as residents of Prince George’s County has been the lack of public discourse surrounding this issue of a proposed casino. For example, several months ago, nine persons were appointed by the governor, state senate president, and the house speaker, to a special working group, whose primary responsibility was to determine whether a casino should be placed in Prince George’s County. That working group consisted of no voting representation from the very county that would be most affected by their recommendations. It makes one raise the question as to why no one from the county was selected to serve and to debate this issue that could literally change the social and economic landscape of our county.