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Area religious leaders Friday launched a united opposition to casino proposals for the Buffalo Niagara region and urged political leaders to quickly derail a fast-track agreement to bring Las Vegas-style gambling here.

"We believe it does more harm than good. It hurts the poor and oppressed, damages business and promotes crime," said the Rev. Merle Showers, Buffalo District community minister for the United Methodist Church.

Adding to the chorus was the Rev. Marvin Abrams, a Seneca Indian who formerly served as pastor of Four Corners United Methodist Church on the Cattaraugus Reservation. He contended that casino gambling will only compound social ills that already exist on the reservations.

"I would urge this group to create a task force to explore economic development for Native Americans," said Abrams, who now serves as pastor of the Native American United Methodist Church of Southern California.

Strong opposition to casino gambling on moral, as well as practical, grounds was voiced by representatives of the Network of Religious Communities during a news conference in its headquarters on Delaware Avenue. The network is an organization of denominations, congregations and religious organizations in Western New York and Southern Ontario.

They attacked the agreement between Gov. George E. Pataki and Seneca Nation President Cyrus M. Schindler that would bring casinos to Niagara Falls, Buffalo and a reservation site.

The network's statement urges a cautious, thorough examination of casino gambling's impact on the area and calls for an opportunity for residents to determine whether or not they want casino gambling. It was endorsed by Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian-Universalist, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu representatives.

The statement, prepared by the network's Public Issues Committee, calls on leaders of churches and congregations to speak out against the agreement, urges the Assembly to reject the proposed compact and asks the State Senate to rescind its approval of the agreement.

While many leaders said they recognize the need for economic development in Western New York and on Indian reservations, the consensus was that casinos are not the answer.

"From studies that have been conducted, there seems to be some positive economic benefit to casino gambling, but the question really becomes, at what cost and to whom?" said the Rev. Marie C. Jerge, assistant to the bishop of the Upstate New York Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"The impact on teenagers, compulsive gamblers, the poor and those least able to afford it affects us all," she added.

"Even though we are sensitive to the need for economic development, this is not the route to take," remarked the Rev. Paul Litwin, vice chancellor of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese.

Pointing out that the state's Catholic bishops oppose casino gambling in New York State, Litwin said its high human cost includes "an increase in crime, a disproportionate negative impact on the poor and the state-sanctioned promotion of the addictive disease of compulsive gambling."

The Rev. John Long, representing the Presbyterian Church, said he is "suspicious with the way this is being pushed. . . . There is a lot of haste because there is a lot of money to be made by a few people," he declared.

Deacon James Anderson of New Hope Baptist Church said he questions the employment opportunities that will be created.

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