By Shelley Grieshop
Local clergy are speaking out against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow slot machine gambling in Ohio if passed by voters in November.
Issue 3, titled "Learn & Earn" for its intent to create college scholarships and grants, would permit up to 31,500 slot machines at seven horse racing tracks and two Cleveland non-track locations across the state. It also would permit expanded gaming in four Cuyahoga County locations.
Several area clergymen contacted by The Daily Standard said they doubt the promised education funds will ever be directed as promised and say gambling ruins people's lives.
"There already are too many children going hungry while their parents gamble their paychecks away," says the Rev. Bruce Crane, pastor of Montezuma United Methodist Church and New Beginning Fellowship.
Crane says gambling can be an addiction just like alcohol. The Methodist Church as a whole opposes Issue 3 and says "learn and earn is about greed and bleed," profiting only casino and race track owners. "We've taken a stance against it especially when it comes to supporting it with public revenues," he says. "This is just like the lottery, which was supposed to fund public schools. It's been an absolute joke."
Issue 3, if passed Nov. 7, spells out how the profits would be distributed: 55 percent to slot and casino owners and operators and 30 percent to the Board of Regents to administer the money for student scholarships. The remaining 15 percent is loosely divided among local governments, purse money at race tracks, administration of the Gaming Integrity Commission and gambling addiction services.
The Rev. Tim Smith, pastor of the St. Marys Church of the Nazarene, says the clause that deals with gambling addiction services says it all.
"If you have to set aside money for the damage you intend to do to people's lives, it's a bad thing," he says. "It's a bad thing for society and a bad thing for morality."
Smith says the people who support Issue 3 know it will cause problems in Ohio, where gambling was legalized in 1975.
"That's why they legally have to put that clause in there," he says.
Others opposing the issue, including State Auditor Betty Montgomery, estimate Learn and Earn casinos will create more than 100,000 new gambling addicts and a private monopoly for a handful of casino owners because gambling proceeds are exempt from state and local taxes.
Those speaking out against the issue say the proposed amendment will grant licenses to out-of-state operators who will take their profits back home with them. They ask voters to look at the history of the Ohio Lottery; it did not save public schools from financial crisis as promised.
Backers of Issue 3 say the profits from gambling will provide new funds for economic development and job creation for communities. Unlike the lottery, supporters say Learn and Earn funds will be free from the control of politicians who currently reduce -- not supplement -- education's general revenue funds by the amount of lottery proceeds.
"The legislature will be powerless to divert this money (from gambling) for politician's pet projects," the Ohio Learn and Earn Committee said in a statement released to the media.
Supporters of Issue 3 say Ohio should profit from money spent on gambling by its residents who now patronize casinos in Indiana, Michigan and Ontario.
The Rev. Ken Schroeder, pastor of the Marion cluster of Catholic churches in southern Mercer County, says gambling tends to entice the vulnerable.
"Gambling seems to draw the people who can't afford to gamble," he says.
Schroeder admits his church and many others offer bingo, another form of gambling, and it bothers him when he sees players spending more money than they probably should. Not much good can come from an activity that has the potential to destroy lives, he says.
"I don't know how anyone could be in favor of (Issue 3), and I think it would be odd for any church to support it," he adds.
Although federal guidelines forbid churches from endorsing individual candidates, they are permitted to speak out on ballot issues.