Jamaica church leaders fight casino plan

Church leaders on Monday urged Jamaican legislators to reject a plan by Prime Minister Bruce Golding to boost tax revenue by licensing the poor Caribbean island’s first casinos.

Allowing casinos on the island would spread vice, threatening social values and ruining families, said Rev. Henley Bernard of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

„It seems incredible that those charged with the administration of the country’s affairs should even think of introducing an activity which has shown to produce an increase in crime, violence and moral degradation,“ Bernard said.

Golding last month said he had green-lighted a proposal by a group of international investors to build Jamaica’s first casino in the tourist mecca of Montego Bay – earmarking revenues for health, education and security spending.

Parliament will consider his bill in coming weeks. Lawmakers have so far said little, but church leaders have blocked previous casino pitches and vowed to fight Golding’s proposal. „We are actually calling the nation to new values and attitudes and a fresh start,“ said Rev. Peter Garth, president of the Jamaican Association of Evangelicals.

Jamaica, a nation of nearly 3 million, now has a few hundred slot machines at various hotels. Golding’s proposal would allow casinos to apply for licenses, if their plans include a minimum USD 1.5 billion investment and plans for an adjoining hotel with no fewer than 1,000 rooms.