Catholic Church in Slovakia takes on US casino giant

By Ecumenical News International
April 9, 2010

Catholic bishops in Slovakia have condemned moves by a US gambling company to set up Europe's largest mega-casino complex on their country's border with Austria, outside the capital Bratislava - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.

"Games of hazard are ethically questionable. They damage the person and society, and the economic benefits flowing from them are highly doubtful," said the bishops' conference in Slovakia. "Academic research proves gambling brings more negative than positive consequences. We need a change in the law."

The church leaders were reacting to plans by Nevada-based Harrah's Entertainment Inc for a 30 hectare (74 acre) complex at Jarovce, south of Bratislava. The project is expected to be completed by 2015 and has backing from the centre-left Slovak government of Prime Minister Robert Fico.

In a statement reported in March, the Catholic bishops said their church is "opposed in principle" to all forms of gambling, and would deplore any government decision to grant tax concessions to ethically doubtful projects.

"While firms working to satisfy the needs of the market pay 19 per cent in tax, there are companies which inflict great economic and moral harm, while bringing much less money into the state treasury," the bishops said. "They bring bankruptcy to individuals and their families, and cause rising crime. Gamblers are less productive, often committing suicide, while gambling is linked to a growth in prostitution."

Harrah's, the world's largest gambling consortium, runs 54 complexes of casinos, hotels and golf courses, with annual revenues of around US$10.8 billion, including several Las Vegas resorts and London Clubs International, which the company bought in 2006 for $568 million.

The $2.2 billion Metropolis centre in the Slovak Republic, to be built by Hungarian developer TriGranit, will include shopping malls, hotels and adventure parks, and is expected to begin operating mega-casinos by 2012.

Harrah's development director, Andrew Tottenham, told journalists in Bratislava that the company hopes to follow the Slovakia project with other smaller ones around Europe, including a Caesars Palace hotel-casino south of Madrid in Spain. Tottenham added that the Slovak project would attract five million tourists to the country from central Europe each year, and create 28,000 new jobs.

Still, opponents of the complex, including the capital's mayor, Andrej Durkovsky, and Slovakia's Christian Democrats, predict it will have, "long-term catastrophic consequences," and say they will only agree to an adventure park without casinos.

Slovakia's Catholic Church, which traditionally makes up around two-thirds of the population of 5.4 million, has also clashed recently with Fico's Social Democrat-led government over State funding for IVF treatment, and a sex education project in schools.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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