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State pastors against legalizing slot machines

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG -- Amid the likelihood of another slot machine bill arising in the state Legislature, 17 Protestant pastors are trying to head off what they see as a "wrongheaded" measure to raise revenue for the state.

Leaders of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches sent letters to all 50 members of the state Senate yesterday, urging them not to legalize slot machines at racetracks or approve other forms of expanded casino gambling.

The church leaders cited claims by Gov. Ed Rendell that the state could raise up to $1 billion in casino revenue, which would be used to lower school property taxes. That estimate has been disputed by the Pennsylvania Economy League as greatly inflated and unrealistic.

"Regardless of which analysis you might believe," the pastors said, "one fact remains. Many more people will have to gamble and lose money in order to net the projected levels of revenue" for the state.

"Pennsylvania needs to pay for shared services for the common good by collecting revenue fairly, according to the ability to pay," the pastors said. "It needs to provide resources based on need. Slot machine gambling is not a dependable way to either collect revenue or assure essential services."

If the state needs additional revenue for educational programs or property tax reductions, church leaders favor increasing the state's personal income tax and closing corporate tax loopholes. "These two sources would allow us to avoid the proven pitfalls of casino gambling," they wrote.

State Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, sponsored a bill in June to put slot machines at the four existing horse racing tracks and up to four new tracks. That bill was approved in the Senate but was changed by the state House to allow 11 gambling locations, including two nontrack sites. So far the two houses haven't been able to agree on one approach, but Tomlinson is readying another bill. A date for a vote hasn't been set.

The pastors who wrote to oppose more gambling are from denominations including Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Moravian Church, Church of the Brethren, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry.

Tom Barnes can be reached at or 1-717-787-4254.

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