Massachusetts Christians have lost their battle to keep casinos out of the commonwealth, but the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher continues to fight against a gambling resort opening in his region’s largest city, where he is based.
Fisher, Bishop of Western Massachusetts since December, remains undaunted in his campaign, although Springfield voters threw their support behind a casino in July.
Their vote cleared the way for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to consider an $800 million MGM Resorts International proposal and potentially award the western region’s only casino license to an economically depressed urban center at the intersection of two interstate highways.
“Casinos have never improved the quality of life in areas where many economically vulnerable people live,” Bishop Fisher wrote after the July 17 vote. “We hope the Gaming Commission will look beyond this vote to the whole picture and seek to serve the common good.”
Fisher has joined other clergy from Lutheran, evangelical, Hispanic, and African-American congregations to press the case that a casino would be an economic disaster for Springfield. He warns that high-paying construction jobs would quickly give way to minimum-wage service jobs. He cautions that social ills, from gambling addictions to domestic violence and suicide, can be expected to proliferate if a casino comes to town.
“For those who have little, the illusory chance that they can gain much, even in a game stacked against them, is tempting and ultimately destructive,” Fisher said in a June 24 blog post, recalling what he told a local TV reporter. “Our churches stand with the economically poor of our society, and that always means taking a stand against gambling establishments in our cities.”
That a casino will locate in the Springfield area is not a fait accompli, although two major proposals are focused there. Even if the commission rejects MGM’s plan for Springfield, it could potentially approve a rival Hard Rock Café proposal to open an $800 million casino next door in West Springfield. That depends on whether West Springfield voters approve the plan Sept. 10.
The best option for local casino opponents would be for the commission to approve a third competing proposal from the small town of Palmer, which lies 20 miles east of Springfield. But first, Palmer voters would have to approve a $1 billion Mohegan Sun proposal for their town. A Palmer vote could be scheduled for as soon as September.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald