|ust about every editorial I write is addressed to the entire readership. But this one is directed to Adventists in the state of Maryland (where I live), who face a critical referendum this November.* As I understand it, the proposal on the ballot will be to amend the state’s constitution to authorize 15,000 slot machines in certain jurisdictions in the state. I think that Adventists throughout the state, whether or not the machines are coming to their own neighborhoods, should join other people of good will to defeat an immoral proposal, foisted upon the populace by misguided leaders and special interests.
Defeating the measure will not come easy. According to a March 8, 2008, editorial in the Washington Post, “a shifting but solid majority of Marylanders supports the slots scheme, which has a powerful ally in Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and backing from the horse racing industry, gambling firms, labor unions, and other special interests that stand to benefit.”
Nor is the state’s position entirely without merit. Like many other governments today, Maryland faces severe fiscal challenges. And scrambling for ways to fund vital state programs, it has come to see gambling as an easy way out. The proposal has received the support of powerful groups and organizations. The Maryland Association of Counties, for example, claims that slot machine gambling will prevent tax increases or severe budget cuts in their jurisdictions—the same arguments they’d made during the administration of O’Malley’s predecessor Robert Ehrlich (R), another zealous supporter of slots. In addition, supporters stress the danger of losing money to surrounding states where slot gambling has become legal: Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. If voted, the measure is expected to bring into state coffers more than $600 million a year—nothing to sneeze at!
What we’re seeing here, however, is that a questionable activity, once the preserve of organized crime, is now being promoted by state government, following a multitude (of other states) in doing evil (see Ex. 23:2).
How should Seventh-day Adventists respond?
When the issue heated up in the legislature in 2005, Adventists remained virtually silent. But certain other faith groups didn’t. Many Maryland pastors spoke out against it, one of them characterizing slots as “a social scourge poised to afflict those who can least afford it.” And a 200-church coalition in Prince George’s County urged their parishioners and others to lobby against the introduction of gambling into the state.
I’m not sure how many Adventists of voting age we have in Maryland, but the number has got to be in the tens of thousands. Should we all choose to exercise our right to vote—and assuming we all oppose the measure—it could make a huge difference on election day, when combined with the opposition of other equally concerned citizens.
That’s what I’m hoping for, given the gravity of the issue. According to a respected study conducted in the mid-1990s and cited in the Post editorial, the anticipated results of bringing gambling into the state will be “a substantial increase in crime.” It says there’d be “more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime.” All leading the Post editorial to suggest that “[what] seems to promise quick cash on easy terms [is] in fact . . . a raw deal.” One legislator called slot machines “the crack cocaine of gambling.”
In Ellen G. White’s time the big issue was temperance legislation, and she couldn’t be clearer on what the responsibility of Adventists should be: “Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping [society’s] very foundations,” she said. “Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 8, 1881).
I believe the same argument is relevant to the issue before us. It’s unconscionable when governments seek to balance their budgets by destroying the lives of the most vulnerable of their citizens, leading many into dependency and addiction. No voting Adventist in Maryland can in good conscience refuse to stand up and be counted this November.
My hope is that we would care enough to act.
*Information for this editorial came from a multitude of radio, television,
and newspaper reports, making detailed attribution cumbersome.
Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.