War on gambling consumes United Methodist activist
11/25/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: A photograph and audio clips are available with this report.
By Jackie Campbell*
Berlin (left) talks with Guy Clark, chairman of the National Coalition
Against Legalized Gambling, during a meeting of the anti-gambling board.
After nearly 10 years of opposing the expansion of gambling in
Pennsylvania, Berlin has become a central figure in an anti-gambling
network that reaches across the United States and overseas to places
such as England and Australia. A UMNS photo by Carl Bechtold. Photo
number 03-495, Accompanies UMNS #572, 11/25/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
MANHEIM, Pa. (UMNS) - After nearly 10 years of
opposing the expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania, Dianne Berlin has
become a central figure in an anti-gambling network that reaches across
the United States and overseas to places such as England and Australia.
gray-haired United Methodist activist uses the Internet to organize
groups and study the effects of gambling upon participants, cities that
host casinos, and states that sponsor lotteries. She may not be as well
funded as the multinational corporations lobbying to expand their
gambling empires, but she makes up for it with a passion for fighting
Undaunted by legislative setbacks and aware of the
odds against her, Berlin works without pay to empower citizens to
oppose gambling facilities in their communities. She spends about six
hours a day, seven days a week, organizing conferences, developing
resources, rallying citizens and monitoring developments. She's
testified at local, state and national hearings on the issue.
Using the Internet, Berlin has developed an international network of gambling foes and researchers.
is indefatigable in terms of energy and passion," said the Rev. Tom
Grey, the United Methodist clergyman who serves as executive director of
the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. Berlin is a vice
chairperson of the organization.
"The individual role Dianne has played in terms of resourcing and connecting people is crucial," he added.
our people against their money and political muscle and the political
weight of the government, so anti-gambling groups must work together,"
Grey said. "The fight against gambling attracts people from all sides of
the political spectrum and a variety of interest groups, from churches
to good government organizations to economic development agencies," he
said. "Berlin has helped connect these diverse groups."
been involved in this battle since Pennsylvanians Against Gambling
Expansion (PAGE) was formed as an effort by A United Methodist Witness
in Pennsylvania when I served on that board," Berlin said.
former elementary teacher and member of Salem United Methodist Church in
Manheim, Berlin served several years on the board of Witness, a United
Methodist advocacy organization. She also became an activist on drug and
In the 1990s, at about the time the
Witness board invited Grey to help form PAGE, Berlin became outraged
when Pennsylvania National Gaming, which operated a horse-racing track
in York, asked the state Horse Racing Commission to approve an off-track
betting parlor in East Lampeter Township.
"This is a community
that had voted against allowing nonprofit groups to operate small games
of chance," she said. "I thought, 'I will help these people.'"
was not surprised her efforts failed. The law does not give much voice
to citizens, she said. Now the battle centers on slot machines.
racing is a $200 million industry in Pennsylvania, but attendance at
tracks has declined dramatically, and industry lobbyists believe adding
slot machines will revive interest. Racing officials also claim revenue
leaves Pennsylvania because residents flock to adjoining states where
tracks have slots and casinos.
Last June, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 27-22 to permit slots at up to four existing tracks and as many as four new ones.
the bill reached the state House of Representatives, the number of slot
locations was expanded to 11, and the House allowed slots at two sites
not tied to race tracks - one in downtown Philadelphia and another
within the seven-county southwestern Pennsylvania area. However, the
final number of venues is tied up in a political stalemate.
legislators say they support allowing slot machines and taxing the
revenue from them as a means of improving education funding while
reducing reliance on the property taxes.
Hoping to capitalize on
the legislative stalemate, A United Methodist Witness in Pennsylvania,
along with the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, issued a package of
bulletin inserts, announcements and background information to encourage
church members to contact their legislators with the message that
"expanding gambling is not a favorable way to raise revenues for
essential government services."
Studies show that for every
dollar of tax revenue that the state would get from gambling, there
would be a cost to the state of $3 in social services, according to
Berlin. Citing data from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission
and University of Illinois Professor John Kindt, she notes that the
state costs would be reflected in increased demands on law enforcement,
the courts, the prisons and programs that address social ills related to
gambling addiction - divorce, suicide, homelessness, violence.
points to the Pennsylvania Lottery as a prime example of the
instability of relying on revenue from gambling. Authorized in 1972 as a
self-sustaining venture to fund prescription drugs and other programs
for seniors, the lottery operates in the red, with the taxpayers funding
its administrative costs, she said.
State lotteries have led to
a change in attitude toward gambling, she said. "The majority of people
who are gambling today would never have dreamed of gambling with the
mob. We have sanitized it because it's legalized. It's worse now because
we have removed the stigma that used to be there for gambling."
vital for concerned citizens to let their legislators know what they
think, she said. "Any place where citizens get involved, they can make a
difference." She encourages writing letters, particularly letters to
newspaper editors. . "Gambling is theft by permission," Berlin
said at an October public meeting to fight a $400 million racetrack and
casino proposed for Palmer Township. "This is a public health issue.
Don't be silent."
The United Methodist Church officially opposes
gambling in all forms. The denomination's Social Principles call
gambling "a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral,
social, economic and spiritual life, and destructive of good
government." The church urges Christians to abstain from gambling and to
"minister to those victimized by the practice." # # #
*Campbell is a staff writer for the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.