“Gambling goes against the teaching of the Bible,” Bishop Schwartz said, “and the fruits of gambling are all bad.”

“Bishop Schwartz” is 43-year-old Daniel Schwartz, who sat down with the New York Times to discuss plans for a casino in his western NY community.

We first heard about this back in May, when over a dozen Amish appeared in court to protest against the proposed $350 million investment.

Schwartz suggests that the casino could lead to drastic measures:

He is talking about pulling up stakes and leaving the region if the project becomes a reality. And he and some of the hundreds of other local Amish have mounted a primitive but potent public relations campaign, appearing silently in court, traveling to state hearings, stating their views in handwriting.

Gambling Dice

Amish and others fear the moral implications of gambling in their community

Town authorities are squarely on the other side of the issue:

Backed by regional leaders and deeply desirous of the jobs, tourism and municipal improvements that a casino could bring, the town supervisor and others have accused the Amish of allowing themselves to be used as sympathetic props to drum up opposition, exaggerating how threatening the plan would be to their way of life, and overstating their population in Tyre — as well as their importance to it.

Supervisor Ronald F. McGreevy says that there are actually only a few Amish families in the town itself.

Schwartz cites 44 community members living in Tyre, and nearly 350 total in his two districts.

Are those numbers great enough to matter?

Jobs and faith

The conflict is just one of a number across New York state, which could see up to four new casinos at various locations vying for the economy-boosting businesses.

In the case of Tyre, the casino developer promises 1,800 new jobs, nearly twice the town’s population.

The Amish also have English partners, in the form of a group called Casino Free Tyre.

It seems this group views having Amish around as bringing spiritual benefit beyond any economic pluses they represent. “They are a protective barrier because of their faith,” says one English backer.

McGreevy contends the Amish “are being used” by the anti-casino faction.

Shoo-fly meet Snake eyes

The conflict has led to bad feelings among the townsfolk. Some are trying to patch things up. I found the following offer amusing, as did, apparently, Bishop Schwartz:

There have been attempts at peacemaking. Thomas C. Wilmot Sr., the chairman of Wilmorite, a company based in Rochester that is spearheading the Lago project, said he had offered to meet with Bishop Schwartz and allow the Amish to do business at the casino, in an area called Savor New York, where farmers, artisans and merchants could sell their wares, just off the gambling floor.

“We’ve allocated the space at no charge,” Mr. Wilmot said.

But Bishop Schwartz seemed unmoved. “No, I don’t think so,” he said, with a small laugh.

Casino Neon Sign

Not the natural Amish habitat

Could you imagine Amish peddling quilts and pies next to roulette wheels and craps tables?

I didn’t think so. That the (albeit well-intentioned) deal was even suggested reveals a lack of understanding of the Amish.

That said, I’m not sure how realistic Bishop Schwartz’s fears are, either:

“People that are spending this money in the casino are not going to have money to make payments to pay their taxes and to eat, and that’s going to make people — they’re going to get desperate for money,” Bishop Schwartz said.

His people are pacifists, he said. “And we don’t look forward to having thieves in the middle of the night or people come knocking at the door.”

I understand the moral objections against casinos, but the scenario Schwartz paints seems a bit far-fetched.

What do you think?

photo credit: dice- davidgsteadman/flickr; casino sign- Roadsidepicture/flickr

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