WASHINGTON – A coalition of Maryland Muslims is mobilizing against the governor’s plan to use slots to balance the state’s beleaguered budget.
Citing Quranic verses that prohibit Muslims from gambling, the group members say the potential benefits of slots will be outweighed by increases in crime and social problems.
The Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation said adding slot machines to four state racetracks would increase crime and corruption.
“It caught our eye immediately when we heard of this (slots),” said the society’s Raeed Tayeh. “It has a wide-ranging impact that some people don’t seem to fathom.”
Islamic law prohibits gambling, said Tayeh. “The Quran commands us to enjoin what is good, and forbid what is evil, and to us gambling is evil,” said Tayeh.
“Gambling and slots are social ills that we can do without.”
However, Gov. Robert Ehrlich feels “the majority of people spoke in the last election, and polls overwhelmingly showed Marylanders approved of slots,” said Greg Massoni, the governor’s spokesman.
The governor has said “anyone that has moral or religious convictions against slots, he completely understands,” Massoni said. “We will agree to disagree.”
Ehrlich proposed installing 10,500 slot machines at four tracks to help balance the state budget, which had a projected $1.8 billion deficit when he took office in January. The governor estimates the machines could bring about $800 million a year for the state.
The society is going from mosque to mosque in Maryland, speaking out against slots and urging Muslims to contact lawmakers. Efforts began Friday, as Muslims gathered for weekly prayers. One of the first mosques where society members spoke was the Islamic Center of Frederick, where listeners “absolutely” agreed with opposition to slots, said Khalil Elshazly there. “You very, very, very rarely find a devout Muslim who is gambler.” Elshazly also noted the Quranic prohibitions against gambling, as well as more practical reasons to oppose the machines. “At the end of the road, it will cost us more money because what we’re going to end up having is other problems or side effects of the gambling, like drugs or alcoholism,” Elshazly said.
Group members plan to speak at about 20 Maryland mosques between now and the end of the Maryland legislative session April 7, said Tayeh.
Islamic law on gambling is widely accepted, said Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute. “In the Quran there is an explicit denunciation of gambling.”
Although the word the Quran uses translates to lotteries, said Ahmad, the word is generally accepted to stand for gambling in general. “When you’re talking about slots, the similarity to a lottery is so strong I don’t see how anyone could dispute it.”
The Quranic verse in question says there can be some profit in gambling, said Ahmad, but ultimately “the sin is greater than the profit.”