Maryland Pastor Opposes Gaming Legislation in Prince George's County

Apr 30, 2012, 07:00 ET from Mt. Ennon Baptist Church

CLINTON, Md., April 30, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Senior Pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, an 8,000 member congregation in Clinton, MD, opposes efforts to bring a luxury casino to Prince George's County Maryland.  The Rev. Delman Coates, Ph.D. says the idea of Prince George's becoming a gambling destination tarnishes the brand of the county and contributes to its economic isolation and segregation from neighboring counties in the National Capital region. 

"Prince Georgians seek employment opportunities, economic development, and a quality of life that is commensurate with the opportunities provided for our neighbors in the region," says Coates.  "What concerns me is that a plan that would be unacceptable to residents in Montgomery and Fairfax counties is being forced upon Prince George's County.  If it is not good enough for them, why should it be acceptable to us here?"

Coates notes that his opposition to the casino proposal is not predicated upon an inherent moral opposition to gaming.  Instead, his opposition is grounded in a vision of economic equity and fairness for a county that according to census data has a workforce that is as educated and trained as neighboring counties.

"Local officials have a difficult job, but if there is any municipality or county in this nation that should expect and demand equal policy and economic treatment, it should be Prince George's county," he says.  "This plan furthers a system of de facto economic segregation that our fore bearers fought long and hard to end.  They did not trade cotton fields and tobacco farms for slot machines and casinos.  These are not the kind of long-term career and economic development opportunities that Prince Georgians should expect."  Forbes Magazine has ranked gaming services workers among the 25 worst paying jobs in America.  "We do not want to gamble our economic future away on gambling," he adds.

Coates says local, state, and federal officials have come together to develop bold, innovative plans that have attracted federal contractors, tech and bio-tech companies, research institutions, and even federal agencies to neighboring counties and jurisdictions.  He believes those same officials should aim to nurture similar business development opportunities in Prince George's County. 

"Given its proximity to Washington, DC and Northern Virginia, the site at National Harbor has regional appeal that could create the kind of meaningful job growth and business development opportunities Prince Georgians seek.  To put a casino at National Harbor or some other location in the county jeopardizes that regional appeal.  This plan does more to appease powerful special interests in our state at the expense of the public interest."

Coates' decision to publicly address this issue comes after receiving numerous calls from church members who reside near National Harbor and are concerned about the social and economic effects of a casino in their backyard.  Other members who are state and county employees are fearful that the current budget impasse in Annapolis threatens their employment and their ability to keep their homes.  "There is a lot of dismay about county and state officials who ran against slots during their campaigns, now backing slots now that they are in office."

Rev. Coates believes that the special session in Annapolis should be allowed to proceed with the casino proposal off the agenda.  He claims gaming supporters often sell the virtues of gambling to constituents with promises that rarely come true.  The revenue projections and monetary commitments to public education are selling points that legislators eventually walk away from after legislation is passed.  Maryland is one of 11 states that legalized casinos or lotteries in the last decade that have not reached the revenue targets promised by politicians and investors.   He also notes that when slots were first introduced in Maryland a few years ago, voters were told the casinos would only appear in rural locations and Baltimore city.  Now, one will open is slated to open at Anne Arundel Mall.  Coates says equally troubling is the fact that two Prince George's lawmakers are proposing to reduce the percentage of slots revenue that would go to the state's education trust fund, in order to increase the share to casino operators, and the targets for minority businesses are often ignored with no real enforcement.

"Elected officials supporting this approach to economic development are abdicating the sacred trust given to them by the people, and are forfeiting their right to be supported in the future," Coates says.  "Residents of Southern Maryland spend far too much time in traffic commuting to work on the other side of the beltway.  The smart politician," he says, "should be trying to figure out how to bring meaningful job opportunities to this part of the state and the metropolitan area.  We are tired of being treated as second-class citizens in a first class region.  I believe we can do better."

Rev. Delman Coates, Ph.D., is the Senior Pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD

SOURCE Mt. Ennon Baptist Church