Elverson United Methodist Church recently hosted a community meeting, “A Mini-Casino for Morgantown; the Other Side of the Story,” during which residents voiced their concerns about a proposed casino in Morgantown.

The Feb. 17 event featured guest speaker Dianne Berlin, coordinator for Casino Free PA.org, an advocacy group opposed to gambling expansion.

The meeting was held in response to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s announcement that a public hearing would be held on March 4 in the Caernarvon Township Building to collect testimony on the Category 4 casino application submitted by Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, LLC, which is part of Penn National Gaming in Wyomissing.

Those who wish to speak or submit testimony must register at gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.

“When the Methodist Church was born in 18th century England, gin was to them what cocaine is to our era. As ever the church is against this and united in our opposition to gambling,” said Rev. Colleen Brandt Painter as she spoke from the pulpit. “We have a short time to organize until the March 4 meeting. A sign-up sheet is in the back, we are looking for a coordinator.”

She introduced Dianne Berlin, of Casino Free PA, who said, “Legalizing something harmful never eliminates the harm. It just legalizes the harm. It has consequences for those who produce, promote and in other ways profit financially from the legalized substance or activity, with very little to no regard for the negative impact on individuals or society at large.”

Issues of addiction, drugs, murder for hire, and suicide were among the concerns.

Berlin told the audience that the machines are programmed to make you think the next one will be the winner. People get so focused they wet themselves; there is staff that changes the cushions.

She continued, “Shenanigans are going on and ordinary people will say they will never understand how it happened. Municipalities had two months to opt out of the not-so-mini-casino by following instructions on the Nov. 2, 2017 Pennsylvania Gaming Commission post.”

Community residents in the audience had an opportunity to speak as well.

“Shame on us. At this point we are locked in. I go to all the meetings. No one shows up. If you live in Caernarvon Township, we are suffocating financially. We need to bring people and money into our town. Businesses are struggling. There are large cracks in our roads and much more. I know we have issues,” said Michelle Raymond of Elverson who said she came to gather more information.

“I’ve heard pie in the sky. I’ve talked to people and heard nobody can stop it. It’s like the landfill problem. I have been praying about it for three months with Pastor Kurtz. It is a shame the young people are not here,” said Richard Wallace of Morgantown.

“Hate the thought of a casino coming in. It’s a drain on us. It will create problems for families,” said Scott Matlack of Geigertown.

“I have a family of four children and am strongly opposed to a casino in this township. Will try to start looking for coordination. We will be lucky if we get a thousand,” said Celeste March of Elverson.

Pastor Ron Pershall of East Nantmeal Christian Fellowship Church, who is also involved with Action Impact for Children with his son Dave, said, “This handful of people will speak for you, not us! I am concerned for the youth and children. We have to pray.”

“We can do what we can do. Why not a moratorium?” said Pastor Painter, presenting a slide show of an online community petition to oppose the casino.

She explained that the petition states that a gambling venue is not in the best interest of the community. It would target the most vulnerable of both residents and those in neighboring communities, create a burden on local municipalities to provide the infrastructure needed, and hinder future development more consistent with the values of residents.

“We are opposed to this gambling venue in our community and request that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reject the license application,” said Painter.

Residents were requested to add their name to petition. Information will be shared only at the hearing on March 4. The list of names will never be sold, used or disseminated for any other purpose.

“If you are able and willing to attend on March 4, we would love to have you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us! Even if you don't live in Caernarvon, please help by adding your name to our petition.”

Residents were encouraged to speak at the March 4 public hearing, submit written comments, sign the petition, protest, speak from script and hand out copies to the hearing officers and the media, send electronic copies to Elverson UM at www.elversonumc.org, write letters to newspapers, contact legislators, contribute with money or in-kind donations, and pray.

“People should be informed that this is not a done deal yet. The final decision has not been made and those not in favor need to let their voices be heard,” said Sam Petersheim of Morgantown after the meeting. “Revenue gained from a casino like this will easily be swallowed up by the need for more infrastructure, more police force, greater demands on our emergency services and social services, more traffic lights and more of our time spent getting from one end of town to the other. Those losses are difficult to calculate and not taken into account by those in favor of this sort of thing. They are taking advantage of people’s addictions and hoodwinking them into spending money all under the guise of producing revenue.”

A public hearing will be held at a later date in Harrisburg where Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association representatives will offer oral arguments and Board members can ask additional questions prior to a licensing decision. All questions that are not press-related should call the PGCB’s Office of Hearings and Appeals at 717- 265-7451.

For more information on Casino Free PA, visit www.casinofreepa.org

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