Commentary

What really is the cost of a casino?

A proposal for building a casino in downtown Minneapolis is tempting as the state legislature nears conclusion and a perceived need for a “money maker” to balance the state budget still exists. Many people are focused on the state’s potential budget hole; they wonder what a casino could do to reduce the difference between income and expenditures.

But there is another view to consider: How important is reducing the budget without increasing revenue through taxes when weighed against jeopardizing the lives of Minnesota’s young people?

Those who have not studied the parallels between gambling and the sex industry might say, “I don’t see where a casino can be putting lives at risk. There are many casinos and I don’t hear of bad things happening to kids.” I can understand such an argument because it is pretty much the way I used to think myself.

However, I have had the opportunity to investigate the sex industry for 20 years now. I have been able to sort out truth from fiction.

Take a look at Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America. While many people are outwardly drawn to Las Vegas because of gambling entertainment, a person needs only to be there a short time to realize this is a town of numerous sexual opportunities. Open the yellow pages and find 150 pages of full-page ads hawking “Hot young chicks,” “University Girls,” and more.

Seven different people with awareness of what is going on in that city estimate the sex industry in Las Vegas brings in between one to six billion dollars a year.

All those who have the authority to vote on a bill supporting a downtown casino should read Melissa Farley’s book Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada. The research in this book was partially funded by the U.S. Department of State. Las Vegas has clearly demonstrated that the presence of gambling, the attracting of people for a “good time,” will lead to significant increases in the amount of prostitution and the number of strip clubs available. One has to be ignorant of the practices of the sex industry or extremely naïve to believe that pimping operations will not find a way to take advantage of “entertainment centers.”

In my experience over many years, I have discovered the truth of what WCCO-TV reported several years ago. Minnesota has a “Dirty Little Secret,” according to the eponymously named special report. Las Vegas police reported over half the young women arrested there on a Saturday night for prostitution are from Minnesota.

We need to realize that pimping operations working to set up young women and entrap them in prostitution have been very active and very successful in this state for decades. When I mentioned that at least 1,000 Minnesota youth are entrapped into this life every year to a former governor’s secretary who had been with the St. Paul vice department, she said she thought my number was too low.

People in the sex industry from other states have come to call Minnesota — “The Factory.” Is this because we have bad kids? Not really. But we do have kids who are naïve and trusting, kids who have been molested, kids who are caught off guard by sophisticated pimping operations.

As Minnesota citizens and believers in Christ as our savior and the source of truth, we find ourselves faced with a decision of more magnitude than we might surmise. With that in mind, the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at its assembly in early May, overwhelmingly passed a resolution that resolved that

The Minneapolis Area Synod meeting in assembly direct the Office of the Bishop to contact Minnesota’s legislative leadership and the legislators representing districts within the Minneapolis Area Synod’s boundaries, Minneapolis City Council members, and Hennepin County Commissioners, informing them of the will of the assembly and requesting that they vote against bills supporting a casino in Minneapolis.

Is debt reduction the main issue, the core issue we are facing? Having worked in addressing the exploitation and harm done to our young people, I am deeply concerned about a reality much more important than debt reduction. I wonder about this: Are we willing to sacrifice more young Minnesotans’ lives for the sake of money?

Jesus was much more realistic about human nature. Recorded in Matthew 18:5-7, he issues a severe warning that no person should ever mess with his youthful or vulnerable followers.

Alvin Erickson is a retired ELCA pastor. As founder and director, he guided Alliance for Speaking Truths on Prostitution (A-STOP), headquartered at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church (now LCMC) until his retirement.