Episcopal bishop: Gambling 'really a tax on the poor'.

AuthorKush, Bronislaus B.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

As the new spiritual head of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Bishop Douglas J. Fisher pledged to immerse himself in the fight for social justice causes that affect the needy.

Bishop Fisher, who was ordained a prelate in December, said he eagerly wanted to rally his flock to advocate for issues such as real immigration reform, gun control, and food, health and other programs geared to help the less fortunate.

However, he didn't think that he'd be spending a chunk of his time, during his fledgling episcopate, battling developers interested in building gambling complexes around his diocese.

"I was neutral on the issue of gambling until all these proposals for casinos and slot parlors started coming forward,'' said the bishop in a recent interview with the Telegram & Gazette. "Looking into the matter further, I could see how these particular businesses could hurt our poor.''

The topic particularly hit home for Bishop Fisher when an $800 million casino and hotel complex was proposed just a couple of blocks from Christ Church Cathedral on Chestnut Street in Springfield, a "vulnerable neighborhood'' populated by unemployed and working class people.

Other casinos and slot parlors were proposed in cities and towns within the diocese, which stretches from Central Massachusetts to the New York border.

With groups pushing for gambling facilities in Springfield, Worcester, Leominster, Millbury, Milford, Brimfield, West Springfield, Palmer and other communities within the diocese, the local Episcopal Church stepped up its opposition.

For example, clergy and delegates from 65 local churches voted at the annual diocesan convention in October to oppose casino gambling.

A diocesan informational program was held before the referendum vote on a casino in Springfield. An all-day prayer vigil was also held on July 6, the day of the vote.

Bishop Fisher also publicly opposed a proposal to put a slots parlor in Worcester's Green Island neighborhood and has promised to work with any diocesan group in opposing gambling in its community.

He has also argued in his sermons and on his blog against gambling complexes.

Recently, Bishop Fisher, along with two other diocesan officials, put together an essay examining how gambling harms the poor.

"We've gotten lots of support,'' he said.

The church campaign, which has allied itself with other groups opposed to gambling, has seen mixed results.

In Worcester, for example, the slots...

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