We United Methodists in Indiana are engaged in a process we call “Imagine Indiana.” We are preparing for the future by praying and imagining the kind of Indiana that God intends, and then we are asking the question, “How can we United Methodists help to make Indiana into the kind of community that God intends?” I can honestly say that in all of the reports of prayers, study, meetings, and planning, no one has said to me that they imagine an Indiana with MORE gambling.

We already have a lot of legal and illegal gambling here in Indiana. We have a state lottery which is not doing well – it seems to require more and more expenditure on ads and prizes to lure people into buying those tickets. That may be why the Governor is proposing privatizing the lottery, in order to ensure payments from a private firm which would have to work to get more lottery tickets purchased. We have horse race tracks for betting, and those also seem to be floundering. Now they would like to add 2,500 slot machines in each of two horse race tracks because simply betting on the horses is not proving to be as lucrative as their owners predicted. We have casino riverboats for gambling, including a new “boat in the moat” at French Lick, Indiana, which is an amazing way to get around the law requiring that casino riverboats actually be boats – this one is a faux-boat with a moat surrounding it.

Yes, we already have lots of gambling, legal and illegal, already in Indiana. Do we really imagine that we need more? Yet the state legislature is being flooded with bills which propose expanding and adding more legalized gambling here in Indiana. Various state legislators have contacted me to warn that the gambling industry is pushing them hard to expand gambling. Even worse, one legislator sent me the message that, “The public, not even church people, seem to care about this proposed expansion.” If that is true, it is a sad commentary on our Indiana. It is certainly not the Indiana that God imagines.

We United Methodists are aware of the real and hidden costs of gambling. We sponsor a Gambling Recovery Ministry to help people who are caught in the downward cycle of gambling. Some of the stories of those persons – the real victims of gambling – are truly heart-breaking. Gambling leads to an increased crime (especially white-collar crime and embezzlement), it leads to loss of jobs, break-up of families as they fight over money wasted on gambling, and it leads to a rise in family violence and even suicide.

I don’t imagine an Indiana with MORE and MORE gambling, do you? Now is the time for United Methodists and other interested citizens to call your state representatives and the governor’s office and tell them simply, “We don’t need more gambling in Indiana.”

I encourage you to write your State Legislators TODAY. These bills are headed for final hearing. Legislators need to hear our voices load and clear. The Coalition Against Legalized Gambling is doing what they can by testifying at Senate and House hearings against the expansion of gambling, but we need legislators to hear your voices as well. If you don’t know who your legislator is, log on to www.in.gov/legislative and click on Who’s your legislator. If you know your legislator, call Senators at 800-382-9467 and Representatives at 800-382-9842, write to them at 200 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204 or use the legislative Web site to send them e-mail. We need to act now. The slot machine bill (HB1835) goes before a Senate committee for hearing on Tuesday morning, March 20. Thank you for taking this immediate action. And thank your legislators for their service to Indiana.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner