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27 November 2005

How Jesus gets the word out

Hmmmm just a local fight against Indian casino gambling, but notice how churchgoers were invited to this meeting by flyers inserted in their hymnals by their area churches on Sunday.

And "the bulletin insert includes photos, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of the seven members of the City Council and Mayor Michael Brown."

Atheists want political things, too, but they sure ain't organized like this yet.

The eight members of the Grand Forks City Council, and the Mayor, are really going to get it this week. And everybody they speak to will tell them that their side is Jesus' side.


Grand Forks Herald (North Dakota USA)
Sunday 27 November 2005

Minister calls city casino a bad bet

Evangelical churches start effort
to fight casino proposal

By Stephen J. Lee, Herald Staff Writer

The growing scandal in Washington over political contributions linked to American Indian gaming will put the kibosh on any more off-reservation Indian gambling, says the Rev. Tom Grey, the nation's leading opponent of legalized gambling.

So, Grand Forks' city leaders should not waste their time pursuing the idea of signing on to the Turtle Mountain Chippewas' effort to build a casino, Grey said.

A now-retired minister in the United Methodist Church from Illinois, Grey heads the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. He will speak at a public forum at 7 p.m. Monday in the Ramada Inn, invited by a local effort to defeat the Indian casino.

He spoke in Grand Forks in 1996 and 2002 as part of larger tours of the state speaking against expanding legalized gambling.

This time, an effort in Grand Forks evangelical churches is brewing, and Grey was invited in by them to speak.

A bulletin insert produced by the Rev. Jeff Schirle, an assistant pastor at Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, was sent to 20 or more congregations, Schirle said.

Unusual for the churches in its direct appeal to political action, the bulletin insert includes photos, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of the seven members of the City Council and Mayor Michael Brown.

"Tell them [the city councilors and the mayor] in no uncertain terms that how they vote on this issue will determine how you will vote at the next election," the insert reads. Using information from Grey, Schirle also lists what he says will be the negative results of a casino. They include "laziness," "ill-gotten gain" and "addiction/lack of self-control," as well as an increase in bankruptcies, crime, divorce and suicide.

"Studies show there's a direct loss of $3 for every $1 brought into a community by a casino," according to the bulletin insert. "With a casino, there's an immediate and a longer subsequent need for more law enforcement, criminal courts and jail space, and social services to deal with all the damaged individuals and families."

Schirle said he took the information from Grey's materials.

Recent scandal

While here, Grey also will emphasize the effect of the recent scandal involving Indian gaming nationwide.

The Justice Department is moving fast in an investigation of alleged corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and several members of Congress, aides and others. Sources say it centers on Abramoff taking $80 million in fees from American Indian tribes over several years and spreading it out to win votes on specific issues, often involving gaming. Part of the investigation involves members of Congress pressuring the Bureau of Indian Affairs over gaming decisions that would benefit Abramoff's tribal clients.

Several top Republican members of Congress, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House majority leader Tom Delay, have been mentioned as receiving large amounts of largesse from Abramoff. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has received a total of $95,000 over several years in campaign contributions from "Abramoff-related money," while voting for projects that Abramoff's tribal clients wanted, The Associated Press reported last week. A Dorgan aide told AP that it was a project Dorgan always supported as part of his general support for economic betterment of tribes, and had nothing to do with Abramoff's troubles.

Grey said, "Both parties are equal opportunity pigs at the feeding trough. They used the BIA as a feeding trough. The Democrats were doing it under Clinton, and then the Republicans came in."

A pipe dream?

The rapidly growing scandal makes the effort of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas to get the Grand Forks City Council on board a plan to build a tribally owned casino in or near Grand Forks not only a bad idea, but now a pipe dream, Grey said.

The corruption often comes in when tribes already with casinos seek politicos' help in barring other tribes from opening new casinos that would compete with them, Grey said.

The head of the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, N.D., already has spoken out opposing Turtle Mountain's efforts to open a casino in Grand Forks.

"Most of the time, what the tribe wants to do is get the city to enter into an intergovernmental agreement," Grey said. "Once they get that accomplished, they can use it to leverage the state and the feds. If the city says we don't want it, they are gone, to find another place."

Wastes time, money?

But in light of the Abramoff scandal breaking in Washington, Grey's main point now is that Grand Forks would waste lots of time and money pursuing the idea of an Indian casino.

"It's going to be the type of scandal that grows and once that happens on the national level, it's very difficult for the BIA to make deals about off-reservation casinos," Grey said.

"So the danger for Grand Forks is, if the City Council gets bitten by the money bug and gives this thing life, ... Grand Forks is going to get into a losing game," Grey said Saturday. "City leaders will spend a lot of time and money on the casino, and you won't see other development."

Other examples

"We have seen other communities spend 10 years pursuing native American casinos that never come," he said, listing Madison and Kenosha, Wis., and Battle Creek, Mich.,

"These communities, once they get tied in to the idea of an Indian casino, any other development just goes by the boards because they are single-focused on getting a casino."

Grey was a captain in the Army infantry in the early years of combat in the Vietnam War, later becoming a chaplain and a Methodist minister.

He began his crusade against gambling in 1991, when his Illinois community saw a riverboat casino brought in on the Mississippi.

Grey, who will meet Tuesday with a group of clergy and also with business people, said, "The two elements I have found impacted when casinos come to town are, on the one side, the ones who deal with the bodies, the casualties," he said. "The other side is the businesses who deal with the sucking sound of the money being drawn into the casino. Usually, the businesses are reluctant to get involved until it is "too late."

Even famed investing guru Warren Buffett opposed gambling expansion in Nebraska, Grey said. "He said he wasn't opposed to gambling, but said all it's going to do is suck money out of Nebraska, and it goes to Las Vegas. In your case, it will suck it out and it goes to the tribe."

Grey likes to point out that one side of the gambling issue stands to make a lot of money over it, while the other side his side spends their own money in the cause.

Grey takes a salary of $36,000 a year from the Coalition, which has an annual budget of about $120,000, received from donations from religious groups including several denominations and individuals. His expenses are paid for his trip to Grand Forks by the local anti-casino group.

He's traveled to every state except Wyoming to fight gambling, as well as to Australia, Great Britain and Canada.

Growing tide

He sees a tide in favor of the gambling opponents.

"In 2004, we had six states Oklahoma, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska, California and Washington voting on expanding gambling to statewide, and five out of the six voted against it," Grey said. "This year, we didn't have any statewide referendums."

"Cities have looked at it and figured out it's not in their best interest. Casinos across the country have not led to city revitalization. It grows bigger city government and cannibalizes existing businesses around it."

The cities of Omaha and San Antonio did studies of bringing in a casino and decided it didn't make economic sense, Grey said.

"We are seeing more and more communities saying no to gambling when they get it on the ballot."

He says politically, it's a losing game, too."We have watched people voted out of office for voting for gambling," Grey said. "We have never seen anyone who was opposed to gambling get voted out because of it."

The United Methodist Church, one of the nation's leading mainline denominations, is a leader against gambling. And conservative evangelical churches that invited him to Grand Forks oppose it, too, as anti-family.

"Most people will say it's the one issue where there is a coalition of conservatives and liberals," Grey said. "They will argue on abortion and homosexuality, and every other issue, but on gambling, they will stand side by side."

They need to, Grey says, as long as local and state governments, and the few private citizens who stand to profit personally from casinos, keep pushing.

Last month, the Grand Forks City Council voted to continue studying the issue.

"They get addicted to the revenue. They are junkies," Grey said of local governments who turn to gambling to fill public coffers. "Once it's in, it addicts the government to the revenue stream."

"So, when this group in Grand Forks contacted me, I said why not try to jump this thing fast. Get the information out, and don't give this thing life. And life is anything short of the City Council saying we don't want this."

Lee can be reached at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or at


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hugs, Rachel

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