About 70 people, including Lt. Gov Jenean Hampton, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, state Rep. Myron Dossett and other local officials gathered Thursday evening at Edgewood Baptist Church to listen or voice their opposition to a $150 million race track soon to be built in Oak Grove.
Organizer Richard Nelson, executive director of the conservative Commonwealth Policy Center, opened the meeting by saying that the battle over the track and its 1,500 historic racing machines isn’t over yet.
“It can be stopped … but we need God’s help,” he said. “I believe this is a spiritual battle. If you just look at the news items in the last week. The New York legislature legalizing abortion up to the ninth month in pregnancy in utero. You look at Virginia following suit and Virginia’s governor came out and essentially saying infanticide in some cases is legal. And I see schemes like this where casinos make their way into communities saying ‘this is your economic development tool’ … at the heart of this, this is a spiritual battle.”
Nelson was the first of a trio of speakers before the meeting that opened into a town hall-style question and answer session with the audience.
Nelson argued several points.
Not once was the race track referred to as a track. Each speaker referred to it as a “casino,” and the historic racing games were called “slot machines.”
Casinos, Nelson said, tend to overpromise and underdeliver; he citing a January ProPublica study titled “How Illinois Bet On Video Gambling And Lost.”
In a PDF from the study, he outlined that revenue projected by lawmakers by October 2018 outpaced the actual revenue by more than a billion dollars.
Secondly, Nelson said the track coming to Oak Grove did not follow the legislative process. There were no public hearings, and the public was not well-informed on the issue beforehand.
He punctuated this point by asking for a raise of hands based on who had heard of the track coming to Oak Grove prior to receiving notice about the policy center’s town hall.
Fewer than half raised hands, although at least a couple of Oak Grove public officials present certainly knew and supported the track and did not raise their hands.
“Casinos have an unfair advantage over existing businesses,” Nelson said, addressing a third point.
Local businesses, he argued, would be harmed, not helped by the casino, which would have its own restaurant. Independent restaurants declined by more than 60 percent when Atlantic City, New Jersey, brought in casinos, he said, because they did not have casinos supporting them and offering free or discounted meals.
Finally, “we should be concerned” about the number of people who would form a gambling addiction should the casino come to the area.
He finished by saying that people have told him that if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to go But that wasn’t what was good for his community, he said.
“I guess I could do that. I guess I could be quiet. But is that good for my community? Am I caring for my neighbor? Am I caring for my children and my family to let that happen? And the answer is, ‘No.’”
Nelson introduced Hampton, who spoke on how casinos were brought to her hometown of Detroit in the late 1990s to try to fix the city’s problems. While they did “change the landscape” of Detroit:
“Casinos have not solved Detroit’s problems,” Hampton said. What the area needed instead of a casino, she said, was a factory, or something that would teach people skills.
A casino, she said, was “an easy answer” to a hard problem.
“The right thing isn’t always easy; the easy thing isn’t always right,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is bank our future on a scheme based on other people losing money.”
Retired soldier Tim Morgan served at Fort Campbell and said he’s been in the area for a long time. He said he served at Las Vegas and there is a downside to the “pot of gold” casinos offered that no one talks about. Crime will rise, he said, and there will be an increased opportunity for human trafficking, drugs and a greater burden on law enforcement and local infrastructure.
Soldiers, he said, are “our most precious resource” and would suffer should the track come to Oak Grove. Casinos reach out to young soldiers and “promise them ladies.”
“It’s a slipper, slippery slope,” he said, noting that the track would only lead to the destruction of many young families.
“This is just not what I want for my community,” he said.
Following Morgan, the meeting transitioned into the town hall, and several residents from both Hopkinsville and Oak Grove asked questions of Nelson, Hampton, Morgan and Westerfield, who was also on hand to voice his opposition.
Those questions continued as of press time.
“The battle begins on our knees,” Nelson said, urging those in opposition to pray, contact their local officials, write letters to news outlets like the New Era, and pray some more. A petition was circulated, and everyone present was encouraged to take a copy and gain more signatures.
Jesse Jones is the editor of The Eagle Post. Reach him at email@example.com.