- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2008

Maryland ministers made a last-minute effort Thursday to rally congregation members to vote against a referendum to legalize slot-machine gambling - saying more gambling will result in more social ills.

“The churches are kind of getting in late,” said Pierre Bynum, chaplain for the D.C.-based Family Research Council. “The problem is that most churches are not politically active. They’re slow to catch what’s going on, even though it’s a big deal and it’s a constitutional amendment. It takes time and here we are behind the eight ball. We’re trying to catch up and we only have [four] days to do it.”

Maryland voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a plan by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to place up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations throughout the state.

While a small number of county leaders, state lawmakers and teacher’s unions have joined with anti-slots forces, Maryland’s religious leaders have been reliable stalwarts for anti-slots forces.

Harold Johnson, a board member for Nehemiah Project International Ministries, said he has watched his uncle deteriorate because of his gambling addiction.

“He just believes it’s only one number, one slot, one roll away from fortune to help all of his family members,” he said. “This is what will happen in all of the families in the state of Maryland who participate in slots.”

Ministers from multiple denominations said at the rally, at the council’s D.C headquarters in Northwest, that slots will create serious addiction problems that will ultimately end marriages and keep gamblers from saving money for their children’s education.

“There is a responsibility to every elected representative and every appointed represented also to serve the people, to care for the people, to look out for the people’s welfare,” Mr. Bynum said. “This measure is going to harm the people.”

Slots supporters, including Maryland’s most powerful Democrats and interest groups that lobby the General Assembly, are banking on slots to bring in $660 million for the state by 2013. But a study done earlier this month questioned the validity of that estimate. Slots supporters have outspent opponents 10 to 1, and recent polls show the measure will likely pass.

Chuck Sheetenhelm, the associate pastor for Chesapeake Christian Fellowship, said slot machines will devastate local businesses.

“How do you expect to sell a steak dinner when a casino is giving it away?” he asked. “Hotel owners, how do you expect to sell a hotel room, when the casinos are going to put up the high rollers for free? One just needs to ride through the community where casinos are located and you will see that the service industry for those towns is destroyed. Slots are bad for families and slots are bad for business.”

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