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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 24, 2002

Gambling foes get Mainland assistance

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

A conservative Christian group on the Mainland has joined Hawai'i's gambling debate and begun a direct-mail campaign urging state residents to become more vocal in their opposition.

"Large, out-of-state gambling casinos have an eye on Hawai'i, hoping to capitalize on the strong tourism industry and exploit it for their gain," warn thousands of letters sent out by Focus on the Family.

The Colorado-based organization, headed by pediatrician and author James Dobson, believes that legalized gambling in Hawai'i would cause long-term problems such as increased crime, corruption and bankruptcy.

"We've been active in this debate for a long time in every state," said Tom Minnery, the group's vice president for public policy. "We've seen tremendous social costs, particularly when government gets involved. The legal way for government to raise money is to raise taxes."

The letters, which the group said targeted 7,200 listeners of its syndicated radio program, urge gambling opponents to lobby legislators the way they did last year to support a bill that raised Hawai'i's legal age of sexual consent.

The Legislature overturned Gov. Ben Cayetano's veto of the bill, which Focus on the Family had supported through similar mailings.

Jim Boersema, executive director of the pro-gambling Coalition for Economic Diversity, said his group has no plans to seek support through letters. The coalition is financed largely by Sun International Hotels, which plans to build a large resort and casino at Ko Olina in Leeward O'ahu if gambling is legalized.

Boersema, disputing predictions that gambling would harm Hawai'i, said wide acceptance in other states proves that legalized gambling does not necessarily harm communities.

"Are all the people in those other locations stupid and does every other government not know what they're doing?" he asked. "I don't believe it."

Kelly Rosati, Hawai'i Family Forum executive director, said her group had asked Focus on the Family to help promote its positions on gambling and the age of consent.

"Our board believes gambling would be very, very bad for Hawai'i," said Rosati, whose organization formed in 1998 and backed a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. "Once you open this door, there's no going back."

Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.