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Religious leaders urge no on Revere casino

Call it bad idea that would hurt city

Casino opponents say a gambling establishment would bring increases in crime and gambling addiction and also would be bad for local businesses.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff

Casino opponents say a gambling establishment would bring increases in crime and gambling addiction and also would be bad for local businesses.

REVERE — Just over a week before voters here cast ballots in a citywide referendum on a Mohegan Sun proposal to build a casino at Suffolk Downs, local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clergy spoke in stark moral terms against the plan, urging a no vote.

In fiery words before about 150 people in a Revere church on Sunday, the religious leaders railed against a gambling establishment coming to the city.

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“In the end, this is a bad idea. This doesn’t come from heaven. It comes from hell. It comes from hell,” said the Rev. George Szal.

“Let’s not buy into a short-term gain for a long-term pain. And that long-term pain is going to be slavery,” he said. “Because once a casino comes, you can’t get rid of it.”

At the Immaculate Conception Parish, where Szal is pastor, the speakers at the half-hour event argued that a casino would have a multitude of negative effects on the city: increased crime, more gambling addiction, and terrible traffic jams.

Attempting to undercut casino proponents, who say the resort will bring many new jobs to Revere, the clergy also spoke of economic harm they anticipated a gambling establishment would have on city residents and store owners by drawing away business.

“The casino is promising great things to our economy,” said the Rev. Nick Granitsas of the First Congregational Church of Revere. “But instead, it’s going to bring destruction down on many of our small businesses.”

Rabbi Joseph Berman, the spiritual leader of Revere’s Temple B’Nai Israel, but speaking on his own behalf at the rally, prayed: “Give us the intelligence to know that a casino will redistribute money toward large corporations, breaking hearts and bank accounts in the process.”

Most of the anticasino rhetoric, however, was framed in religious and moral terms.

Gambling “brings hostility amongst people. It brings sin,” said Imam Sherif Shabaka. “If I lose my money or lose my house, what [do] I become? I become a person full of hatred and destruction to the society.”

Voters in this city of about 53,000 people are set to vote on the proposal on Feb. 25.

Massachusetts’ casino gambling law requires that voters in the town or city where a casino is proposed give the project their approval in a binding referendum before it moves forward.

In November, East Boston and Revere held referendums on a resort-style casino proposed for Suffolk Downs, which straddles the East Boston-Revere line. While Revere voters approved it, with about 60 percent casting their ballots in favor, East Boston voters rejected the casino proposal.

After the vote, Mohegan Sun proposed a different casino resort at Suffolk Downs, located entirely on the portion of the track’s land in Revere.

The developer is competing with Wynn Resorts, which wants to build a casino in Everett, for the sole Greater Boston resort casino license.

Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere said most elected officials in the city support the Mohegan Sun plan and pushed back against the clergy effort, calling their anticasino campaign both “11th-hour” and “extremely misguided.”

“All they are doing right now is driving jobs and revenue out of the city and into Everett,” Rizzo said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon. “If they think they’re eliminating gaming, they’re not.”

He said he does not believe the social ills the clergy “continue to lament about” outweigh the social ills of unemployment.

At the rally, Szal took a swipe directly at Mohegan Sun.

He said the combined millennia of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions say “gambling stinks!”

“Out of what tradition does Mohegan Sun speak?” he asked.

The crowd, seated in pews, laughed.

“We certainly respect that there are different opinions,” Cosmo Macero Jr., a spokesman for Mohegan Sun, said by telephone after the event. “It’s very clear however that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is establishing a gaming industry. Mohegan Sun Massachusetts will create thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in new revenue, and economic opportunity for Revere and the entire region.”

After the event, Linda Aufiero, 66, stood in the foyer of the church wearing a “David Beat Goliath” button.

A lifelong Revere resident, she said she strongly opposed a casino in her city, which she thought would lead to increased crime and gambling addiction.

“I’ve seen firsthand what it does,” Aufiero said, explaining she grew up with a father who suffered from a gambling addiction. She said she was pained by her city voting in favor of the casino proposal in November. “We missed the boat last time,” she said.

This time, she added, “we’re working really, really hard to get this no vote.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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