Ridgecrest is in a Battle for Its Soul with an Indian Casino

Would a casino in a small desert town in California offend God?  Some appear to think it would.  At a public meeting on the casino project, Pastor Wayne Porter posed this question: “Do we want to risk the displeasure of God for $395,000 a year?”  To me it seems highly unlikely that a tiny casino in a tiny town would be a concern for the ruler of the entire universe.  But, what do I know?

Ridgecrest is a small town in the high desert of California.  It is located near major petroglyph sites and a naval base and one day Ridgecrest might have an Indian casino to round out its menu of attractions.  The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe has a reservation 160 miles away in Death Valley, but would like to have a casino in Ridgecrest.  The tribe claims the area is part of its aboriginal territory and that it has been for more than a thousand years.  Certainly the region has been home to Indian tribes for thousands of years; there are many rock paintings in the area and some might be as old as 10,000 years.  For the tribe, a move to Ridgecrest is not much of stretch, but for modern day citizens of the town, it is another matter.  The situation is complicated because the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe seeking an “off reservation” casino; or in California parlance “reservation shopping.”  Under federal law to take land in to trust for gaming a tribe must meet some clear federal guidelines. One of those guidelines is the support of the local community.

Recently Ridgecrest held a town meeting to discuss the subject, as one might expect; and as gaming debates generally are, it was very emotional. Over the course of the last fifty years gaming has expanded out of Nevada and spread into most of the rest of the country.  The expansion is the result of legislation or constitutional amendments; and each time it was a highly polarized and hotly debated issue.  Proponents touted revenue, job and economic stimulus; opponents warned of destroyed families, crime, drugs, prostitution and traffic jams.

Increased crime. Bankruptcies. Gambling addictions. Corrupting schoolchildren. Interfering with the mission of the base.  And, of course, the wrath of God.  The public turned out in droves to attend the Ridgecrest City Council meeting to voice their opinions on a casino, and what most of them said was “No!” “Do we want to risk the displeasure of God for $395,000 a year?” Pastor Wayne Porter said. Porter was one of several pastors who spoke up on the subject…Marilyn Neel took the idea even further, saying the community should not sell out its moral character.  We are prostituting ourselves, we are prostituting our children.” Jessica Weston, Ridgecrest Daily Independent, 4-22-16

“Don’t bring gambling to our town; it will ruin the character of our town and corrupt our youth!”, is the mantra of the opposition.  The rhetoric is essentially the same in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island or New Hampshire.  It is nuanced in each location, but the essence remains the same.  And by now, I thought I had heard every possible argument for both sides.  That is until the citizens of Ridgecrest took up the issue.  Besides Pastor Porter’s concerns about God, Marilyn Neel compares community hosting of a casino to prostitution.  “We are prostituting ourselves, we are prostituting our children,” Ms Neel said.  There was hardly a dry eye in the audience, or a vote in support of the casino.

It is too soon to predict the outcome.  Getting federal approval for an off-reservation Indian casino is not easy.  The process is long, complicated and subject to the changing polices of new administrations in Washington.  But whatever the final result, it may go down in history as the first time God took a personal interest in an Indian casino.



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