New York's newly-elected governor, Eliot Spitzer, came into office in a cloud of self-proclaimed virtue. In years of pre-campaigning as Attorney General, he had gone after Wall Street heavies, and at a time when Empire Staters generally found Albany to be both corrupt and ineffective, he cultivated a tone of moral indignation. That's why we elected him.
So we are a little perturbed to see that, in one of his first major decisions, Spitzer has thrown his considerable weight behind the plan to build a casino in the Catskill Mountains.
The casino plan, promoted by the Mohawk tribe, has been tossed around for several years. The Indians (whose reservation, btw, is no where near the Catskills, a fact which will require some legal loopholing) like it because they will make money; real-estate developers feel likewise. Let's admit it: they have a case. Some of the locals like it because they have been led to believe that the project will generate jobs, and bring back the supposed good old days of the Borscht Belt. Their case is a lot weaker. Casino jobs pay badly, offer no significant benefits, and are more than offset by the social costs. Don't believe me? Ask Atlantic City or Connecticut how well their Average Joes and Janes have done.
Environmentalists oppose the plan because the Catskills are forest preserve, and protect a fragile watershed. Father A. is himself a native of this forest, and would be heartbroken to see it ruined. So that's a problem. But let's be clear: the biggest problem with casinos isn't that they despoil the environment. The biggest problem with casinos is that they are evil.
That is to say, casinos are places where people go to smoke, drink and gamble. They are places set apart for vice, and specifically for the purposes of exploiting those who are addicted to vice. And where these vices are indulged, others -- prostitution, drug abuse, usury (in the form of "payday loans") -- are likely to be found as well.
And yes, beloved. Father A. knows perfectly well that some people can shoot craps all night without surrndering their dignity, self-control or mortgage. But you know what? Some people can shoot heroin without paying the penalty; that doesn't mean we make it legal, and it certainly doesn't mean we provide governmental assistance to shooting galleries.
Wake up, America: Gambling is not your friend!