bleak future if local casinos open
By John W. Kennedy
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
people in the A/G, I wasn’t political,” says
Worthington, 57. “But the church by default is losing
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.
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.
that massive public protests can tie up the process for
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
Mattix say the issue is too crucial for Christians to ignore.
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.”