On Feb. 17, I visited Elverson Methodist Church for a community meeting about the proposed casino in Morgantown. My article “Residents speak out against casino” printed in the Feb. 25 issue of Tri County Record and the Feb. 28 issues of several other publications for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Residents share their letters as things heat up for the March 4 PA Gaming Commission public hearing for Penn National Gaming’s casino application. The hearing will be held at the Caernarvon Township, Berks municipal building.

I received the following letters for publication (edited due to size):

From Shannon Bernard, Morgantown

As a 26-year resident of Morgantown, I am most definitely opposed to the proposed casino that will be located just a half mile from my home. A mere 835 yards from a casino that will dominate the landscape of a small, sleepy village. My four most detrimental reasons: decline in property values; negative economic impact; increased traffic congestion, and casinos preying on the most vulnerable.

According to studies, there is ample evidence casinos have a negative impact on neighboring home prices. An article, “Casinos always a gamble for neighboring home values,” states, “Casinos attract gamblers and partiers… leaving some cities facing issues like bankruptcies, crime, traffic, and congestion, which can play a heavy role on home values.” He quotes Jed Smith, of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), “Casinos are an attractive nuisance on home values…the impacts are negative – the positive benefits minimal, but the negative impacts substantial.” (Malito)

Angela Colley’s article, “Should you gamble on a home near a casino?” “Having a casino nearby can drop home prices 2-10 percent.” Former Connecticut Governor says interviews showed property values adversely impacted when casinos are introduced. Eight years after Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino opened the value of residential homes reduced 10 percent plus. (realtor.com)

My home value next to this casino will certainly drop. I will eventually have to sell my home for less, devastating for my retirement and future.

David Frum’s article, “A good way to wreck a local economy: build casinos”. “Revenues from Maryland’s first casino in Perryville dropped 30 percent from their peak in 2008 and are expected to decline even more rapidly. The impact of casinos on neighboring property values is ‘unambiguously negative,’ according to NAR … people who most often visit casinos do not wander out to visit shops and businesses…it is designed as an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have exhausted their money.”

Morgantown’s local businesses will not benefit, but instead, will suffer financially.

Melissa Chadburn in her article, “Why Casino-Drive Development is a Roll of the Dice”, “Gambling is often criticized as a ‘tax on the poor’ because of the disproportionate number of lower-income Americans who participate in it”. Gamblers will not spend the little they have locally, only in the casino. Our restaurants, bars, and services will suffer. Cannibalization of our small individually owned businesses will certainly happen.

The elected officials in Caernarvon Township are incorrect in their reasoning that it will boost revenue in Morgantown. It will increase traffic in an already congested area.

Jeff Morris, Penn National’s Gaming’s Vice President of Public Affairs said, “The casino will bring more traffic closer here into Berks County.”

Morgantown isn’t looking for more traffic into its already congested two-lane village. Exiting my neighborhood, across the Turnpike from the casino, is already difficult during weekends and summer months due to tourist traffic and trucks.

The Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of Pathological Gambling’s, “Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review” says gambling resulted in economic and socials costs to individuals and families, as well as to communities. Costs include traffic congestion, demand for: public services, roads, police, fire and crime protection.

Apart from adding more lanes in Morgantown, which is impossible, there will be no way to lessen the impact of additional traffic congestion in Morgantown. 

In my opinion the casino is morally wrong. This mini-casino is not the fun entertainment the media or casino promoters endorse. CNN’s article, ”The harm that casinos do” “Modern slot machines are highly addictive because they get into people’s heads as well as their wallets. They engineer the psychological experience of being in the ‘zone’—a trance-like state that numbs feeling and blots out time/space. For some heavy players, the goals is not winning money. It’s staying in the zone. To maintain this intensely desirable state, players prolong their time on the machine until they run out of money—a phenomenon that people in the industry call ‘playing to extinction.’ Those in lower ranks of the income distribution often do.” (Frum).

Is this really okay? Do we in Morgantown want to exploit our most vulnerable, as the township says to ‘boost revenue for the township without raising taxes?’ This is wrong!

Building this casino will negatively affect the neighborhoods, the town, and the region. My question to the township supervisors endorsing this casino? Do you live within half mile of the proposed casino? If not, are you sacrificing those who do to high levels of noise, dealing with bright lights, maneuvering through congested traffic, and selling our homes for a loss? Are you concerned about the negative impact this casino will have in Morgantown – a sleepy, little town that shuts down by 8 p.m.? Are you concerned about the moral implications of exploitation of the most vulnerable in lower economic circumstances just to boost uncertain revenue? In my opinion, this casino will not be the savior of this town, but the object that will ruin it.

From Rev. Coleen Brandt Painter, Pastor at Elverson United Methodist Church

It’s been enough years that I’ve forgotten her name, but I pray for her, and my last conversation with her has been weighing heavily on my heart since I heard about the casino project that has been approved by Caernarvon Township, Berks.

She had started coming to my church with her mom and called me on the phone asking for guidance on a marital issue. Her issue involved a financial situation that she was afraid to tell her husband about, although the details she gave were fairly cryptic. My first approach was to try to start her on the slow and detailed process of getting a budget together, but she wasn’t interested in that. “I’m a generous person. God will reward me for that, right?”

I remember asking her to clarify what kind of reward she meant—did she mean a spiritual reward, or a financial reward? Our good deeds always bring spiritual rewards, but all people, even Christians are primarily blessed financially through hard work and being good stewards of what they earn.

“Have you been gambling?”

The line went quiet.

“If we have not been good stewards of what we have been given, God does not turn around and reward us through the very means that got us into trouble. You need to tell your husband about the situation and stop whatever you’ve been doing to get yourself in this trouble.”

She hung up. I guess that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. I hope she found a better counselor.

The woman lived in a municipality that borders on Caernarvon, Berks. Having a casino so close by is likely to turn her and others like her from occasional gamblers with a marital problem into people whose homes are in foreclosure.

I understand the desire of local officials to attract business that will stimulate the local economy. The casino industry has certainly made plenty of rosy promises to Caernarvon Township. Local officials need to look closer at the independent research. Looking at the potential economic impact of a casino in Western Massachusetts similar in size to the Penn National proposal, a study by the Realtor Association of Pioneer Valley admits there may be some economic benefit from large casino projects, such as those in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, because people will stay several days and look around for other things in the community to do. But smaller casinos like the one proposed for Morgantown only attract day-trippers and local residents. Day trippers stay in the casino until they are done, then leave, never venturing out into the local community. At the same time, local residents end up losing money in the casino rather than spending it in the restaurants, shops and other businesses that keep the local economy moving. Local municipalities still have to bear the cost of policing, roads and other infrastructure that the casino requires. As such, smaller casinos create a net loss to the local economy.

This same study points out that impact studies of a project never put a dollar value on the social costs of gambling—work absenteeism and job loss, marital problems and divorce, housing foreclosures and bankruptcies, suicide—because there is no accepted methodology for doing so.

Those social costs are what most concern me, and as a pastor I know as a pastor those costs are high. To people like the woman I pray for. That’s why I’m against allowing Penn National Gaming to build a mini-casino in Morgantown.

From Pastor Ron Pershall of Elverson

As pastor of East Nantmeal Christian Fellowship located in Elverson, PA and the president of Action-Impact, Inc., a local youth ministry which has an all-volunteer staff. I work with the families of the community and have a real love for them. A number of families in this community work two jobs and long hours to make ends meet.  I believe that casino will not help our community but will bring stress and friction to families and create problems in a community that is faith-based and a wonderful place to raise our children.
 
It was presented to us that this is a done deal and not presented clearly that the Caernarvon Board of Supervisors had chosen not to opt out like Lancaster and much of our state. The meeting that you are holding on March 4, 2019, seems like it has been planned in such a way that the working families of our community will be unable to attend and give their opinions because many of them will either be at work or coming home from work.
 
I am asking you not to allow this casino to come into our commun.ity.
 

From Stephanie Gibson of Elverson 

The sad thing is the Caernarvon powers that be are trying to push this casino on the community of Morgantown after seeing all the damage they have done historically to the town such as tearing down the Plank house on Main St. In Morgantown really makes me see what their agenda really is! Historic restoration clearly is not something they are interested in but clearly new and modern is.. Sad sad days indeed in Morgantown, Pa and the surrounding areas. I hope and pray to God this casino does not go through and it flops. 

From Michelle Raymond of Caernarvon Township, Morgantown

First thing I would like to mention is that I attend the Caernarvon Township's Supervisor meetings, regularly.

I believe the location of the proposed Hollywood Casino Morgantown (PA Turnpike, 176 and Route 10) will be strategic in the growth of our community. The draw of customers will stimulate the existing businesses, provide opportunities for new businesses and jobs for our residents and a larger tax base for Caernarvon Township.

As a side note, many other local jurisdictions also did not "opt-out" so per the Mini-Casino license, it will be built 15 miles from Cocalico Township, it will be built in our area. I don't want this to become like the Trash-Steam Plant/New Morgan/Landfill issue in which Caernarvon has the negatives and No positives.

From Carol

Thank you for sharing your letters.

Tri County Record and Berks-Mont Newspapers will report on the March 4 public hearing. I remain open to receiving your comments to publish in my column. On the Record with Carol is your public forum on all subjects of concern locally. Email me at quaintancecarol@gmail.com please include you name and town for publication. I am listening on the record.

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