Church vs. State: The Casino Debate Continues

I write in reference to the recent newspaper articles regarding the opposition of church leaders to the introduction of casino gambling in Jamaica. There is no question that the implementation of casinos is important to the development of the country. National development entails concepts such as change, evolution, growth and advancement, which must be embraced for the nation’s progress.

Historically, the purpose of a country or nation-state is to marshal the economic resources of a society. National development for Jamaica could enable its citizens to control their future by improving living conditions, access to quality health care, nutrition, education and housing.

Any debate pertaining to national development includes a multiplicity of political, economic, and social interests. Therefore, although religious dogma can be important, it must be seen as one out of the many social perspectives that have to be contemplated with regards to policy initiatives. Religious leaders have articulated their views.

The gospel of church leaders regarding casinos includes: further damage to family life, children, and the general moral fabric of society, as well as the marginalization of the poor. Unsubstantiated claims that the government has not considered the negative implications of casino gambling for the country have also been levied.

In general, the institution of religion, as an agent of socialization to encourage the masses to adhere to generalized rules of morality and social conduct is naturally conservative. However, the most compelling argument for development initiatives cannot be based on inspiration for the future that is intrinsically rooted in the nostalgia of the past.

In fact, that would be the opposite of progress. The position of the religious leaders is critically undermined due to the fact that gambling in many forms takes place on a daily basis without the same heightened level of vociferous objection from the Church. As such, their emotional appeals cause many observers to question their political mandate.

The negative aspects associated with casinos include: links to organized crime, theft, prostitution, illicit drug-use, and panhandling.

However, it is important to note that casino gambling has been widely practiced in places with less violent crime and moral turpitude than Jamaica before casinos have been introduced. Furthermore, casinos could potentially become the most important or profitable tourism export of the nation, which is critical for national development.

The advantages of casinos, which far outweigh the potential deleterious effects, include the usual benefits of tourism such as: increased revenue, business and industry development, increased taxes (for free education and health care), foreign exchange, job creation, and infrastructure development of roads, water, and electricity.

Obviously there would have to be strategies to deal with likely casino-related crime. However, initiatives such as the police surveillance of the hip strip in Montego Bay show that crime can be curtailed with a competent and adequately funded crime prevention program. The current administration is definitely on the right track with this policy initiative.

Antonn Brown

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