Unlike the US, where our priests would rarely preach about anything more serious than “Jesus loves you”, here in the Philippines, our clergy is politically active. And one of the latest campaigns in our district is to oppose a local casino.

So the sermon in our church this week was “No to Casinos, No to resorts, no to motels, no to Shabu (meth/illegal drugs)”.

Now, most Catholics know that the church doesn’t oppose moderate gambling. Bingo games for years kept a Catholic school system afloat in some US cities. And few Catholics worried when Native Americans started casinos aimed at outsiders, enabling them to break the government monopoly on business and health care that was strangling development on reservations.

So why is it different here in the Philippines?

In one word: Corruption.
The joke here is that bribes are give over the table, under the table, and including the table. So nobody in his or her right mind thinks that a moderately clean “Las Vegas” type casino system will be developed.

The lure of easy money is being promoted by some very powerful men. From the Philippines Inquirer:

MANILA, Philippines—It’s the “mother of all mega-deals” that deserves a good look.

This in a nutshell was the reaction in Congress and Malacañang to the offer of businessman Ramon S. Ang to buy Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for $10 billion to raise funds for the cash-strapped government and transform the country into a “tiger economy.”

There are big international gambling companies who will invest and harvest big money from such casinos. So most locals suspect much of the profit will be siphoned to rich investors, mainly outside the country. But many also suspect that such large deals will probably be lubricated by bribery, kickbacks, and other forms of “gifts” to local politicians, cops, etc.

Another problem that worries the bishops: that the casinos will be the lynchpin for other  shadow industries.

Motels here commonly rent “by the hour”, and many resorts are not “family friendly”. We already have a problem with “illegal recruiters” who lure hapless poor girls, offering jobs as maids or entertainers, end up in prostitution or being abused by employers here or overseas. But Casinos would make this low grade problem an epidemic, encouraging sexual exploitation of poor girls (and boys) while bribing local officials to look the other way.

And the connection between casinos, and the drug trade is already an open secret.

Another problem is the “gambling is the way to become rich” mindset results in the spread of other forms of gambling, such as mobile casinos (using machines or internet) to lure the poor. The result of impoverished families, gambling addiction, and suicides by those who lost their life savings is another rarely mentioned social problem.

We are not talking about a casino in a large resort that already attracts a large number of foreigners on vacation.  Those resorts have an interest in keeping gambling and the shadow industries of drugs and prostitution under control, for fear of losing their patrons, who often are attracted for the beauty of the land, the beaches, or the eco-tourist aspects of the Philippines, but welcome a little gambling as a minor part of their visit.

We are talking about placing a casino in an isolated rural area, that has only gambling as an attraction to tourists. And the advantage is that it will be placed in an isolated that lacks the sophistication to detect or oppose corruption.

The bishops are not falling for euphemisms, or pretending that this play is about a night of innocent fun that harms no one.

“Opening another casino will open more doors for corruption and pave the way for the impoverishment of gamblers,” the statement read.

Where casinos operate, the statement said the ill-effects on the socio-moral fiber of the citizenry could be felt, aside from the rise in criminality, the spread of prostitution and the “shameless corruption” of those engaged in the gaming business.

Of course, the new governor claims he agrees with the bishops (but can’t stop the project).

Rationalizing on his position on the moral aspect of the casino issue, Umali said if he now orders for a stop of the operation of a casino in the province, he should have first ordered the closure of cockpit arenas in the province.

Close the cockpits? That is a hit below the belt, because nearly every house has a couple of roosters in the yard, and petty ante betting on the local cockfight is a traditional form of entertainment in the Philippines among rich and poor alike.

By comparing the lucrative but petty ante local cockpits to a multimillion dollar casino and the corruption that will inevitably follow the big money is, of course, ignoring the reality that the real “winners” will be the criminal class and the local politicians.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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