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Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open (12/28/03)

Soap, figurines, candles keep books company in Christian stores (12/21/03)

In order to form a more perfect union (11/30/03)

Federal Marriage Amendment receives Fellowship’s endorsement (11/23/03)

Drug czar congratulates Teen Challenge (11/16/03)

Christian fiction no long back-shelf item (10/19/03)

DREAM3 benefits churches (10/19/03)

Youth rise to DC03 challenge (10/12/03)

Ministry uses drama, music to touch city for Christ (9/28/03)

Displeased viewers protest raunchy programs (9/21/03)

Grit, determination key to cities blocking cable pornography (8/31/03)

Economic slump doesn't always derail giving (8/24/03)

Ruling threatens family, Christian leaders say (8/17/03)

Anti-aging options require balanced approach to health, beauty (8/10/03)

Convoy of Hope reaches out to inner-city neighborhood (7/27/03)

Fight for the flag moves to nation’s schools (7/20/03)

Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans (7/13/03)

Church's integrity well received following nightmarish ordeal (6/29/03)

Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

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Christian filmmakers pursue wider market success (5/25/03)

Intervention is key to preventing suicide (5/18/03)

Adoption often right decision for young expectant mothers (5/11/03)

Dallas-based ministry keeps inmates out of jail (4/27/03)

Medical analysis of Jesus' death generates interest (4/20/03)

Small-town church reaches community (4/13/03)

Young married couples lulled by false sense of security (3/30/03)

Virtual gambling days may be numbered (3/23/03)

Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success (3/16/03)

A/G prayer event set for gathering in nation's capital (3/9/03)

Volunteers give church voice in community (2/23/02)

Federal law protects churches in zoning battles (2/16/03)

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Predators often plan strategies long in advance (1/19/03)

The Cross and the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later (1/12/03)

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

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Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open

By John W. Kennedy (12/28/03)

For long-time Assemblies of God pastors Chip Worthington and Charles Mattix III, 2003 has been a year like no other. They have taken on an industry they believe is eroding the moral foundation of their communities — casino gambling.

With the blessings of their California congregations, Worthington and Mattix are now energized community activists, lobbying lawmakers and leading ad-hoc citizen groups. The pair have become spokesmen against the rapid multiplication of casinos across their state.

Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), regulating tribal gambling establishments on reservations in states that had any form of gambling.

Now tribal casinos are big business. In 2001, a total of 200 tribal casinos grossed $12.7 billion of the $30 billion annual gambling revenue, keeping a whopping $5 billion as profit. Because casinos on tribal land trusts are sovereign, they are exempt from state and local taxation — as well as regulation. Now there are 299 tribal gambling operations in 28 states. California, with 54, has the most.

Only three years ago California voters approved a constitutional amendment that gave tribes an exclusive right to operate casinos. Within the next nine months, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed state compacts with 60 tribes beckoning the same type of blackjack tables, slot machines and roulette wheels found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

An entity dubbed the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, 568 people from the Miwoks and Pamos tribes, had no federal government recognition until 2000. Before Graton Rancheria came into being, its leaders promised not to solicit gambling ventures. But with congressional recognition came a federal government guarantee of a gambling site. And because the tribe has no land, they are allowed to buy a site. Such “reservation shopping” is becoming increasingly common for tribes looking to locate a casino near a well-traveled freeway.

After environmental concerns stopped the Graton Rancheria group from settling in Sears Point, they set their sights on Rohnert Park, a city of 42,000 people 40 miles north of San Francisco.

Worthington has been pastor of Rohnert Park Assembly of God for 24 years and has been yearning for revival. He sees the arrival of a gambling complex as a serious threat to his community’s spiritual life. Worthington suddenly is a political organizer for four factions — now representing 5,000 citizens — trying to halt the casino after he spoke against the proposal at an August city council meeting.

“Like many people in the A/G, I wasn’t political,” says Worthington, 57. “But the church by default is losing America.”

In September, Worthington traveled to Washington, D.C., where he delivered petitions signed by 4,700 residents and met with U.S. senators and representatives as well as White House and Department of Justice staffers. That same month 100 Rohnert Park residents marched to protest the proposed casino.

Nevertheless, in October the city council voted 4-1 to approve construction of a tribal hotel and casino complex on 360 acres on the city’s outskirts. The deal would net the city $200 million during a 20-year span from gambling revenues. Rohnert Park protesters have launched a recall movement of city council members who consented.

Later in October, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, perhaps swayed by an area newspaper poll showing voters by a 3 to 1 margin opposed the casino, voted 4-1 against construction of the casino. As a result, federal agencies may require a stricter review process that takes environmental, safety and traffic concerns into account.

Worthington maintains that massive public protests can tie up the process for years.

Meanwhile, Mattix, pastor of Barstow A/G, has led a similar charge against a projected casino to be operated by the Los Coyotes of the Cahuilla tribe. He has lobbied in the nation’s capital, spoken at city council meetings, encouraged residents to sign petitions, helped spearhead a community forum attended by more than 500 residents and organized an ad-hoc responsible growth coalition.

“The impact on the social fiber of our community would be devastating,” Mattix says. “Families would split, credit card debt would rise, crime would increase and there would be more drug addiction.”

More than 40 local pastors signed a letter that the ministerial association presented to the city council objecting to the moral and social problems the casino would cause. Mattix says city council members earlier all vowed, in response to a ministerial association questionnaire, that they wouldn’t solicit gambling for the community of 23,000. The city has since launched a publicity blitz, distributing free T-shirts, flying discs and beer cups that tout benefits of gambling, according to Mattix.

Although the 272-member Los Coyotes already has a compact and 25,000 acres near San Diego, they believe the heavily traveled stretch in Barstow between Los Angeles and Las Vegas would be the perfect spot for a casino. The Barstow and Rohnert Park plans are but two of 23 “off-reservation” casino proposals in California.

“I owed it to my congregation to confront this issue,” Mattix told PE Report. Forty members of the 145-member congregation attended a council meeting, raising questions about potential problems from traffic congestion to an endangered water supply.

“This has become a great passion,” says Mattix, 52. “I will do whatever I can to keep Barstow from becoming a little Las Vegas. I fear that the casino will become the plantation and the city of Barstow its slaves.”

Local politicians often believe gambling is an attractive option to keep from raising taxes or cutting programs. But the added costs for more police officers, street repairs and welfare services, to name a few, don’t make it such an economic bargain.

The United States has 601 federal- or state-recognized tribes and nations, but another 200 are aiming to officially regroup, many in an effort to cash in on the gambling windfall. Payoffs can make tribes with a few dozen members wealthy in a hurry. But are casinos really a boon to Native Americans?

Congress designed IGRA to alleviate poverty and promote economic self-sufficiency on reservations. However, nearly 80 percent of American Indians receive nothing from gambling revenues, according to U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia.

Outside investors, who can pocket up to 40 percent of the profits, don’t need to divulge their identity to the public. Wolf, 64, claims there is no credibility in the recognition process because gambling investors have poured millions of dollars into helping defunct tribes gain legal identities.

Many Native Americans aren’t convinced gambling is a panacea.

“Gambling is biblically and morally wrong,” says John E. Maracle, chief of the A/G Native American Fellowship based in Phoenix. “It’s a predatory industry that adds one more vice to an already vice-stricken group of people. Gambling splits friendships and families, increases the suicide level, and contributes to life-controlling problems such as prostitution and alcoholism.”

Maracle, who is a Mohawk, notes that the revenue isn’t helping Native Americans in rural areas. Maracle, 52, observed the devastation firsthand when he pastored on a New York reservation where pro-gambling forces built a casino.

“Indian casinos can’t be stopped because they’ve been approved by the federal government,” says Guy C. Clark, 62, chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. “This is the fastest-growing component of gambling.”

IGRA prohibits states from directly receiving a take of the profits, so why do government officials lust after casinos? Clark, who lives in Albuquerque, notes that economically strapped municipalities, such as Rohnert Park and Barstow, work side agreements to try to snag a casino in their area. Such revenue sharing typically pays the city 5 to 8 percent of a casino’s net income.

But politicians and would-be politicians also are enticed by the campaign contributions that don’t face typical political action committee scrutiny. For example, one tribe made a $2 million donation to a political campaign.

Wolf, who has been in Congress since 1980, says politicians and tribes aren’t the only culprits. “Part of the problem is that the churches have been relatively silent on this major cultural issue of the day,” Wolf, a Presbyterian, told PE Report. “By the time they get involved, it’s all over.”

Worthington and Mattix say the issue is too crucial for Christians to ignore.

“Gambling deserves our most sincere and aggressive rebuke,” Mattix says. “If the church ignores gambling ventures it’s a ‘sure bet’ that the personal and interpersonal damage will be irreparable.”

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