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Black clergy fall on both sides of the casino issue

admin | 1/25/2012, 7:30 a.m.

The debate on whether to support casino gambling in downtown Miami is not an issue restricted to the chambers of County Hall. With promises of jobs, funding for education, support for community-based programs and improvements to the local infrastructure, some of Miami-Dade's ministers say they support the effort to build a Vegas-style casino in downtown Miami. But not so fast, other preachers say. Appealing as it may sound, they wonder if this casino "apple" may come with a serpent of its own. During a recent press conference, Pastor Gary Johnson of Clergy for Change said his concern is that despite the potential for needed jobs, casinos often bring with them an increase in crime. "Casinos destroy small businesses and destroy families," Johnson said. They will bring more pawn shops, more robberies and more killings. Nathaniel Wilcox of P.U.L.S.E advises the community, Dont take the gamble, adding that it will be bad policy for legislators to sell their souls for a few dollars." But there are ministers who have a different take on the issue. Rev. Willie Simms, an associate pastor at Peaceful Zion in Liberty City, says he is heavily involved, mentally and prayerfully, in the casino issue. "In a stricken economy, where our community is the most heavily affected, I am excited about a proposal to create 8,000 permanent jobs, not including construction jobs I just want to make sure they dont bypass the Black community. They have my total interest. I see more than gambling. I see hotels. I see restaurants. I see business" Pastor Jimmy Bryant of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Liberty City spoke candidly about the pros and cons. "I'm aware that it will create some economic resources," he said. "However, many in our community are too undisciplined to be able to handle the temptations that will follow. I'm afraid that it will do more to hurt us than help us and cause more harm than good." For Charles Mitchell, pastor of True Vine Baptist Church in West Little River, his concern is that while an element of crime and prostitution already exists in Miami-Dade, "I'm afraid that it will become more organized [as in organized crime]. Prostitution will go to another level, he said. Mitchell compares Vegas-style casino as having the same affect a "big box" store like Walmart has on mom and pop businesses. "A casino offers one-stop shopping, he said. It's almost like bringing a monopoly to town. I believe like every other citizen, ministers have a civic duty to participate or be heard on issues impacting their communities. I do not represent the views of my congregation but to the best of my ability I allow my position to be shaped by the word of God. I have not had any type of formal discussion with my congregants, but I will, at the appropriate time, encourage them to participate in the legislative process and vote their convictions. By Gregory W. Wright Miami Times writer g.w.wright@hotmail.com