Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Gaming Question - A Missed Opportunity

I think we Catholics on Guam have missed an important opportunity in the gaming debate to witness to the unique Oneness of the Catholic Church. I think that it would have been much better for us to say we opposed gaming simply because we respect both the office and the pastoral concern of our Archbishop.

Such a stance, I believe, would have served us much better, both in protecting us from misusing the Church’s authority and its sacred symbols, and in signifying to all other forces, both pro and con, the singular authority and respect that a Bishop alone can lay claim to by virtue of his apostolic pedigree.

Instead we have launched a retaliatory attack from a multitude of directions that is uncoordinated, overly defensive, and in some cases, intellectually dishonest or severely uninformed, and even demeaning to the sacred symbols of our Faith. Almost anyone with a story about a relative who lost his house playing a poker machine, or who has learned how to google, has become a spokesperson for the opposition.

We can’t stop people from speaking their mind. However, if our local Church is going to publicly oppose gaming (and there will certainly be more opportunities), then I recommend that we let the Archbishop lead and that we simply back him without panic, without fanaticism, without public condemnations in the name of Santa Maria Kamalin and Divine Mercy, BUT WITH the “hope that is in within us” (1 Peter 3:15)

Now, for those who are serious about opposing this issue, I would like to discuss honestly what I believe are serious flaws in our opposition.

The "Gambling is Immoral" argument

I have personally confronted priests who said from the pulpit “gambling is a sin”. And it WAS said. I also publicly challenged media personalities who used this error to highlight alleged hypocrisy.

While other (non-Catholic) religious communities are free to generate their own moral code and promulgate its latest version, we are not. We are not in the business of making new sins. As you are aware the Catechism states the following:

"Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant." (2413)

There are some who quibble over the meaning of the words “contrary to justice”. However, the sentence about cheating clarifies the whole paragraph. In identifying “cheating at games” as constituting “grave matter”, it’s obvious that games (of chance), i.e. gambling is not the issue for cheating could not occur if the game was not being played. It’s also amusing to note that the Church even “winks” at cheating in the last sentence.

To our credit, I have not heard this refrain (gambling is a sin) during the current campaign. I’m even hearing some opponents preface their remarks with the truth that “gambling is not a sin”. However, in the absence of an official disclaimer, there remains a heavy implication that even though we cannot say directly that gambling is evil we can certainly claim that those associated with it are. This leads to my next point.

The argument that "Greed is at the root of gambling"

Sorry, but we don’t get to judge the motives of others. My father enjoys gambling. He is a self-made businessman who provided for eight children and is even now providing for the education of several grandchildren. He has no need of gambling winnings. He enjoys the game, as I suspect many others do.

Gambling is a legitimate form of entertainment. I personally fail to see its entertainment value, but I would throw video games, most movies, and almost all of TV into the same sinking boat. I happen to think that more corruption enters the family home through the “black wall snake” (cable) than a casino could ever bring. However, I don’t get to “pull thy neighbor’s plug”. (By the way, my idea of a good time is an evening home with my children or spiritual reading without interruption.)

I could list a myriad of social ills that we already entertain quite readily without the help of a casino in our so-called “Keep Guam Good loving family culture”, ills that we not only for the most part ignore, but even celebrate (gluttony - and the diseases that accompany it - comes to mind), and I’m sure you could add to the list.

No one seriously contends that our island is “good”. Most casino opponents readily admit that we have huge problems but consider a casino as adding to those problems. Their contention is that gambling is never good. Let’s take a look at that claim.

The "Gambling is never good for society" argument

I recommend that in future campaigns we "refrain from this refrain". Gaming proponents missed an incredibly easy chance to discredit the opposition by simply highlighting the fact that the destination of choice for many local families who have left Guam since our recession began in the mid 90’s is Las Vegas.

Ask these new residents of “Sin City” why they choose to live there and they will tell you “better schools”, “better jobs”, “better everything”. The fact is, Vegas has only one industry. And while there are many associated industries, if it wasn’t for the crap table and the slot machine, Vegas would be nothing more than the assemblage of desert shacks and dilapidated trailer homes that typify many remote southwestern towns, and it would certainly not be the “destination of choice” that it now is.

Opponents will recount the stories of shattered lives but will leave out the very obvious evidence that many people, many Chamorro people, are, by their own testimony, better off there than they were here…which is why they are there and not here.

Keeping locals out

I'm not Chamorro, but if I was, I would be extremely irate as the opposition seems to be aimed at Chamorros as if Chamorros had a genetic predilection towards gambling addictions. Sadly, in our panicked defense, motivated mostly by bad memories, we implicate the whole of the Chamorro people as irresponsible and imply further that they must be protected from themselves.

But casinos are not just gambling parlors. Usually they include restaurants, shops, shows, etc. Many people rightly desire more opportunities and venues for relaxation and entertainment. The argument that the irresponsibility of some should not dictate the availability of choices for others is valid.

Prop A will benefit only Greyhound?

This is simply not true and evinces a deep ignorance on the part of those who continue to repeat it. How often have I heard that Prop A will give a sole license to a sole entity for the sole benefit of that entity?

Every business gets a sole license for a sole entity for the sole benefit of that entity. No business gets in business for the primary purpose of benefiting others. That’s called a charitable organization. But the nature and genius of free enterprise is that no business can benefit itself until it first benefits another.

With the recent passing of Mr. Ken Jones , we have the opportunity to review the life of a man who got very rich. His contribution to Guam is immeasurable. Try to imagine a Guam without Payless Supermarkets, the Cliff Hotel, the Hilton. All told, Mr. Jones started around 70 businesses on Guam. How many people have benefited as employees, customers, associates, suppliers? It’s incalculable.

How was he able to do this? First and foremost his businesses made money, lots of it. From the moment Ken Jones sold his first product and made his first penny Ken Jones made money FOR HIM. To his credit, and to our benefit, he took that penny and made 2 pennies…and so on. Regardless of his motives, be they selfish or philanthropic or just because he enjoyed the process, the reality is that because of Ken Jones and his profits, many people are eating today.

Regardless of Mr. Baldwin’s motives, Guam has already been the beneficiary of the almost one million dollars that Greyhound has invested in this election alone. Lots of children of people who work for the media are eating a little better just now. And families of contractors and construction workers, engineers and architects, future employees and suppliers, will all benefit before Greyhound makes a red cent.

Another bad argument is that that there is something wrong with Greyhound keeping 90% of net profits with the other 10% going to Rev & Tax. In case you didn’t know, most other business on Guam get to keep 96% as they only pay 4% to Rev and Tax. Greyhound will pay MORE to Gov Guam than most other businesses, including the strip clubs, massage parlors, porno shops, and abortion clinics that we allow to go unchallenged.

If we even begin to add in the tax revenues generated by the payroll, the increased sales of suppliers, the associated corporate income taxes, and the whole range of increased revenues due to the multiplier effect of a successful industry, the amount injected into the local economy would be many times more than the 10% being ridiculed by the opposition.

No control over where the 10% goes

Opponents of Prop A fret that the 10% tax that Greyhound will pay and earmark for education , healthcare, and public safety will go into the General Fund and disappear. Well whose fault is that? Ours! What we’re saying is that we don’t trust ourselves to elect people we can trust to do what we elect them to do.

This is actually our NUMBER ONE problem on Guam. I have been actively interviewing many people on who their top choices are in this election. I then ask them why. The number one reason is “He/She is nice”. That’s it.

As many of you also know I have been behind the campaign to identify the true positions of the candidates on abortion. When I confront the “He’s nice” people with the fact that their candidate of choice refused to sign a formal commitment to pursue anti-abortion legislation on Guam, the response is usually apathy or “don’t worry, he’s pro-life”.

Need I say more?

Pseudo religious ads

The use of sacred images to promote a political point of view on an issue that Catholics have a legitimate right to support or oppose is at best an act of ignorance and at worst an offense against the sacred.

While individuals are totally entitled to a personal view, they are not entitled to take that which belongs to all of us and use it as their personal property. Santa Maria Kamlin is the patron saint of all Catholics on Guam, not just the opponents of gaming. All Catholics have the prudential right to decide for themselves on this issue.

Use of church property and liberties at the pulpit

I also take personal issue with using the Catholic churches and schools to display anti-gaming signs. Since Catholics are free to choose in this regard, the use of church property to display those signs is an infringement on our freedom and a disregard for our financial support of our parishes and schools.

The same is true for the employment of Catholic school students to “wave” against gaming. This is an infringement on the rights of parents. Something tells me that this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

I also reject the use of the pulpit to bully congregations. Catholics must attend Mass under pain of mortal sin. While “Father” is free to teach about those things that really are sins, he is not free to lobby against Prop A for reasons stated already above or to slander the people who support it. A more appropriate approach would be to hold a prayer service after Mass that people are free to attend.

The “ends does not justify the means” and this is already backfiring on us. I know of several people who were willing to vote no on Prop A but who changed their minds after being “bullied” at Mass or saw those offensive ads.

Abuse of "Love thy Neighbor"??

This assumes that you know what's best for your neighbor. If we finish the instruction ("as thyself") then we would have to conclude that those who enjoy gaming and find it beneficial liesure would rightly want the same opportunity for others. As Catholics we don't get to decide what's best for our neighbor in matters that are prudential. Again, though well intended, it is a usurpation of the Faith that belongs to all.

A recent entry in the local newspaper claimed that if one life is negatively affected by a casino on Guam then that's one life too many. Sounds nice, but such an argument is simply futile in the real world. Every action has a reaction of some sort. The proposed military buildup will affect Guam both positively and negatively. Should we tell the military now to get lost because at least one life will be negatively affected? Some think we should.


The sad thing is that none of this had to happen. The Archbishop has decided that a casino is not good for the island. He has stated his reasons, and as faithful Catholics we can simply state that we back him. We can also add our personal reasons. We can state that we also think that a casino will not be good for the island and give our personal reasons for why we think that.

But the emphasis is on “personal” and prudential. We don’t get to make new sins. We don’t get to pronounce judgment on others. We don’t get to be economic experts. And while we can question the findings of the likes of Fr. Richard McGowan, S.J., we certainly do not get to publicly impugn or question his priestly integrity - as was publicly done by some well-known Catholics

Perceived or real, the public sense is that groups like “Keep Guam Good” and “Lina’la sin Casino” are front groups for the Catholic Church on Guam. Despite the efforts of their spokespeople to deflect the implication, it is quite obvious that all roads lead to the Archbishop.

As stated at the outset, I see this is an excellent opportunity to witness to the Oneness and Apostolicity of the True Church. I do believe that the Archbishop has stated his opposition in a clear and reasonable manner. But there is a disconnect between his leadership and the many factions within the opposition.

It is these factions, this lack of coordination, this scattered message, along with the obvious ignorance inherent in the standard positions and tactics of the opposition enumerated above, that give the proponents reason to keep trying.

It is my opinion that only the Archbishop can coordinate the message and the opposition. For the record, I would support a Casino on Guam (though not necessarily Prop A) save for the wishes of the Archbishop. I have no personal issue with gaming and I'm all for the rights of others to enjoy legitimate entertainment even though I myself would not imbibe. I believe that despite the estimated “social cost”, a free people should not be denied access to something they enjoy that is not in itself a bad thing regardless of the potential for addiction (e.g. alcohol, smoking, etc.).

And that's what this should be about, letting a free people, freely decide. There is no problem with laying out the arguments and standing by them. But we in the opposition have allowed legitimate arguments to be manipulated and misaligned to achieve our ends. We have also maligned, defamed, and judged the hearts of those who don't agree with us. Yes, some of them may have done that to us, but need I remind you that we don't get to do that to them?

If you’ve read this far, I thank you for honestly engaging my positions and accepting my right to prudential judgment. I know that I’m probably just asking for trouble by releasing this. But I also know that there are intellectually honest Catholics, though they may disagree with me, will not let their disagreement interrupt our relationship and cooperation in pursuing the true cancer on our island.


  1. I always appreciate your way of looking on both sides. Thanks. Lollie


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