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'False Hopes' preaches against casino on film

Construction of a casino in downtown Buffalo isn't deterring an area religious organization from continuing its opposition to gambling in the city.

Instead, the Network of Religious Communities stepped up its anti-casino efforts with a new video directed by a local independent filmmaker.

"False Hopes" portrays the negative impacts of a casino, as seen through the eyes of several area clergy and political and community leaders.

The seven-minute film includes interviews with the Rev. Darius Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church; Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo; the Rev. Troy Bronner, pastor of Elim Christian Fellowship; and Robert Kresse, president of the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, among others.

"No one mentions foreclosures on homes. No one mentions people losing jobs because of addiction," Arthur O. Eve, former deputy speaker of the Assembly, remarks at one point in the video.

"We are not going to grow an economy and a people on games of chance," adds Pridgen.

The interviews are spliced with scenes of Buffalo's industrial skyline, activists protesting against a casino, City Hall and a backhoe preparing for casino construction.

The network hired Addison Henderson, a Buffalo native who previously directed "The Forgotten City," a feature-length documentary based on a murder in Buffalo, to conduct interviews and edit them into a narrative.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he respected people's opposition to the casino -- the fate of which ultimately will be determined by a federal court.

But the mayor objected to the video's characterization of Buffalo as a hopeless city.

"The description of the city as dying and desolate is absolutely wrong," he said.

The video project took about a month to complete. In January, the Network of Religious Communities will begin sending about 100 copies of it on DVD to area congregations. It also is available now for viewing through the network's Web site, www.religiousnet.org.

"The message we're trying to get to people is, 'It's not harmless,' " said the Rev. G. Stanford Bratton, executive director of the Network. "This is not like church bingo, where people go and socialize."

"To play a 25-cent slot machine for an hour, mathematically you're going to lose $600," he said. "We're not talking about a little money here."

The poor and elderly will be particularly victimized by a downtown casino, he added.

The Seneca Gaming Corp. earlier this month began construction of a temporary casino on Fulton Street in Buffalo's Cobblestone District. The 5,000-square-foot prefabricated metal building will open in March with 124 slot machines to meet a deadline spelled out in the Seneca Nation's gaming compact with New York State.

Pending the outcome of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court opposing gaming, the Senecas are planning to build a permanent, $125 million casino that will feature 2,200 slot machine and 50 gaming tables, as well as restaurants and shops, on a nine-acre site.

Everyone interviewed in "False Hopes" believes the casino is a bad idea, with potentially tragic consequences.

Henderson said he did his own research and is convinced they are correct.

He uses Detroit as an example. That city has more than one casino in an effort to compete with gambling venues across the border in Windsor, Ont.

But few neighborhood residents received jobs at the casinos, and unemployment in the Detroit area is still nearly twice as high as in Buffalo, he said.

"I don't see what's going to be the difference between Detroit and Buffalo," he said. "How is [a casino] going to help?"

Henderson hopes his film encourages people "to do their own investigation."

"Hopefully, it sparks people's imagination," he said.

At the very least, if a casino does materialize, the video could help dissuade churches from sponsoring gambling trips for senior citizens, said Bratton.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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