September 30, 2005

Republicans Caught Between Business and Christian Extremists

Here in Mississippi, an interesting story is developing in which state Republicans find themselves torn between the Christian extremists who elected them and the business interests who paid for their campaigns. The story focuses on the state's gaming industry and what to do about the casinos in Biloxi which were severely damaged by Katrina.

According to Mississippi law, casinos may be built on water (along the Mississippi river or Gulf Coast) but not on land. Why? Because the Christians opposed gambling but were willing to agree to this compromise. In Biloxi, the result was the building of several casino hotels on the shore with floating casino barges attached. These floating barges were destroyed by Katrina, leading to the rational suggestion that they be rebuilt on land.

For obvious reasons, the casino developers would prefer to rebuild on land. Given that the state's economy has been in terrible shape since (and probably well before) the Civil War, casino dollars represent an important source of income. Similarly, the casinos bring jobs to the area. This means that a great many Mississippians generally support the existence of the casinos. Failure to do so would further jeopardize one of the worst state economies in the U.S.

On the other side of the debate, stand the Christian extremists. They are opposed to gambling for the same reason they oppose alcohol, nudity, rap music, homosexuality, and hundreds of other "evils" - their Christian beliefs. They don't want the casinos here at all and certainly not on land (I'm still not sure why this really makes a difference). Don't get me wrong - there are many valid reasons to oppose gambling, however, superstitious beliefs are not among them.

What are the Republican politicians to do? If they let down the Christians, their faith will be questioned and they risk losing their base of support. If they let down the casinos, they may go elsewhere and take away one of the few reliable sources of state income.