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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (October 19, 1999 – Samoa Observer)---The leader of the Catholic Church in American Samoa is attacking the move to legalize gambling in the Territory as "a method of enriching the few at a tremendous cost to society."

Bishop J. Quinn Weitzell of the Samoa-Pago Pago Diocese referred to the legislation as "a new cancer."

Those proposing legalized gambling have offered to build a new hospital, build a first resort-hotel, open new jobs and increase government revenues.

"I would urge our legislators, our Executive Branch, our merchants, our religious leaders and all of our citizens to look carefully at this attempt to use this means of raising money for what it really is: a method of enriching the few at a tremendous cost to society," declared Bishop Quinn.

The Catholic Church said the cost of casino gambling becomes a financial burden on those families whose members suffer from gambling addition (and results in) lower business revenues due to family gambling losses; government addiction to gambling revenues; government focuses on gambling for revenues rather than controlling government expenditures; the need for additional resources to control gambling and to combat organized crime and the danger of corruption and other criminal activities.

"The idea of investors pouring millions of dollars into our economy is purely speculation. Hawai‘i has fought casino gambling. Florida has defeated an attempt to legalize casino gambling. Both states are where tourism is the mainstay of the economy," Bishop Quinn noted.

"Casino gambling will reap a bad harvest. It will slowly destroy our territory, our community and our families," the Bishop added.

Bishop Quinn also noted supporters of gambling who say that legalizing gambling provides jobs and economic development and monetary rewards for government treasuries.

"They suggest gambling is a voluntary, victimless tax," said the Bishop.

The Bishop noted, however, that the negative effects of casino gambling, which "are many."

"But just consider its effect on family life. Gambling problems can be related to higher levels of divorce, substance abuse, child and spouse abuse, poverty, unemployment, depression and suicide," Bishop Quinn pointed out.

"I urge you, our people, to consider carefully this proposed legislation and sent it back to the mainland investors with the answer: No!" he concluded.

An investment of US$ 45 million is being promised if gambling is legalized in American Samoa.

Meantime, a visit by a group of lawmakers scheduled to depart on Monday on a fact-finding mission, visiting gaming activities in California and Arizona, has been delayed.

House Speaker Aina Saoluaga Nua said the trip would be delayed for another week or two while the Fono finalizes the final budget for fiscal year 2000.

The delegation was organized to find out how gaming activities operate at Native American sites and report back to the Fono.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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