An Open Letter To Governor Tim Pawlenty Concerning the Expansion of State-Supported Casino Gambling in Minnesota

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Founder & Teacher,

Many of us who have admired your gifted leadership of our state are stunned by your support for expanding the gambling industry in this state. We hope that you will reverse this position and provide strong, creative, far-seeing leadership for reducing, and even eradicating, government support for the social cancer of gambling.

We understand from your press release last fall, when the Minnesota State Lottery published Gambling in Minnesota: An Overview, that you “stated a preference to not expand gambling in Minnesota.” Probably that stated preference was based on your knowledge of the destructive effects of widespread gambling on our culture. Therefore, it appears that you regard the financial benefits to the state and the inclusion of northern tribes in the gaming industry (in the name of fairness) as more desirable than the social benefits of minimizing gambling. Many of us strongly disagree.

When we read that “the state’s gross revenues would be approximately $164 million per year,” and that the “tribal entity” that owns the new casino would receive twice that, what we hear is that the governor will be glad that citizens of this state will lose that much money while gambling at this casino. Not counting the relatively minor non-gambling revenue, the real meaning of casino revenue is gambling losses. People must risk money and lose it for the state to get its income. If every one of the five million Minnesotans gambled at this new casino, each one of them would on average have to lose nearly a hundred dollars a year.

But, of course, millions of Minnesotans will not gamble at this casino—which raises the losses demanded of those who do gamble to amazing numbers, in order for the state to get its desired income. Every year Americans wager billions of dollars in casinos and on lotteries, horses and dogs, and other forms of gambling. Those who cash in on this industry are not lovers of our nation; they are exploiting the poor, encouraging folly, promoting greed, damaging our commitment to rewarding labor, and undermining the character that makes a nation work.

The American exploitation of the poor with state-supported gambling muddies the conscience of many legislators. Statistics abound that the government-sponsored gambling exploits the poor. In my own Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis, one need only watch who gets on the bus that takes them to the casino. It is the poorest of the poor.

Only a few, it seems, are willing to say how far and how manifold are the corrupting effects of state-sponsored gambling. I encourage you to ponder this insight from Richard Neuhaus:

In a democracy, the need for popular consent to tax is a powerful check on government growth and irresponsibility. A government that raises money by encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses of its citizens escapes that democratic mechanism of accountability. [Just] as important, state-sponsored gambling undercuts the civic virtue upon which democratic governance depends. (First Things, Sept., 1991, p. 12).

We are disappointed that you are supporting the expansion of an industry that “destroys marriages, undermines the work ethic, increases crime, motivates suicide, destroys the financial security of families . . . and dupes people into believing [it] will somehow benefit children” (James Dobson, Gambling’s Dirty Little Secrets, April 1999).

It is telling that tucked away in the news release at your website is the admission that some of the income from the gambling losses of our people will be set aside for “programs for problem gaming.” So you are willing to promote an industry that destroys many lives, and then take some of the income and try to do remedial work with the human wreckage.

You are a Christian. I rejoice in that. I am not suggesting any naïve attempt to “legislate your morality.” I am suggesting that the Bible informs our vision of what is good for people, and our daily lives confirm the wisdom of God (not that he needs it). That is surely the case with gambling. Evidence abounds that gambling damages the fabric of the community—especially the Native community.

Gordon Thayer is the Executive Director of American Indian Housing Community Development Corporation, and former tribal chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Tribe of Wisconsin. In an interview yesterday he lamented the number of people that he works with who come seeking help with their utility bill because they lost their meager income at the casino. He commented that it is a sad day when the people who once sat on the resources of our country now have to resort to gaming.

“Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. . . . Some by longing for it . . . have pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). In other words, the desire to be rich is suicidal. And endorsing it by encouraging gambling is cruel.

It is wrong to endorse and support an institution that is bound to confirm people in their weaknesses and to cultivate in others the greed that would lie latent without this outlet. Expanded gambling will hook most easily those people who need just the opposite, namely, encouragement and guidance in fiscal diligence and responsibility.

I believe I speak for thousands, Governor Pawlenty, when I say, I urge you to have the courage to stand for what is really good in the long run for our state and not concede to the financial pressures or the demand for “fairness” in an industry that cultivates a character where fairness is irrelevant.

Sincerely yours,

John Piper
Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis