Church leaders voice concern about ‘racino’ proposal

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

More money may come into the Tucumcari area from proposed gaming operations.
But a race track and casino will also contribute to a rise in divorces, suicides, crime and in other social and services costs, said several area church leaders.

“Not everyone is interested in accepting the financial gain in exchange for the potential social and economic fallout,” said Dereck Owen, pastor of the Assembly of God Church. “When you compare each dollar of revenue to $3 that taxpayers must dish out in increased criminal justice costs, social welfare expenses, high regulatory costs and increased infrastructure expenditures, what economic gain has their really been?”

Owen and several pastors spoke out against a proposed gaming facility at Thursday’s City Commission meeting.

It was one of the most highly attended commission meetings in months, with more than 60 people. The group was drawn by the city’s upcoming vote on a proposal to seek a race track and casino in Tucumcari.

During the public comment period, no one spoke out in favor of the proposal.
Despite the objections raised by individuals and church leaders, city commissioners unanimously voted in favor of joining a joint powers agreement (JPA).

The agreement sets in motion the organization of a proposed Quay County Gaming Authority to seek licenses from the state for gaming operations in Tucumcari.
In mid-March the state legislature approved new gaming compacts that allows for six race tracks. There are currently five in the state.

Project coordinator of the proposed race track and casino, Warren Frost, has said the gaming proposal will aid in the area’s economic development by creating jobs and an economic multiplier effect that would create more jobs and spark further development.

Gaming operations will create no new wealth and will siphon money from existing business, said David England, pastor of First Baptist Church.

“Gambling corrupts government and gambling victimizes the poor,” England said. “Gambling is a sophisticated form of stealing.”

Pastor of the Third Street Church of Christ, Brian Haines, said, Tucumcari has a reputation for hard work. Gambling will change that and bring the city a reputation it doesn’t want.

Cathy Witcher, wife of commissioner Jim Witcher, said the commission had worked hard on various proposals and asked those in attendance where they had been in the preceding months.
“Where were you when they were looking at last year’s budget?,” she said. “Maybe if we all worked together more often we could get something done.”