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Anti-gambling leaders vow vigilance after South Carolina lottery loss

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–“Whenever you do what is right, you are always victorious,” Mike Hamlet, a board member of No Lottery 2000, told reporters as the campaign to oppose a state-run lottery in South Carolina conceded defeat about 10:30 p.m. Nov. 7.

“South Carolina Baptists have been, are and will be against gambling in any form,” Hamlet told the Baptist Courier newsjournal. “We will have to work with greater intensity now to teach our people about the problems associated with gambling.”

While South Carolina faces challenges in education, Hamlet still maintained, “The answer is not to be found in the false hopes of a lottery.”

Speaking for the hundreds of thousands of voters who opposed the lottery, Hamlet, pastor of First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, urged legislators to find a means to fully fund education without depending on a lottery.

“A lottery is still not acceptable. We opposed it because we believe it is wrong. There is no such thing as a good lottery,” he stressed, adding that the lottery will promote gambling, and gambling hurts people.

Gov. Jim Hodges was elected to office two years ago on a platform that included a state lottery as a means to improve education. Hodges advocated that the estimated $150 million in additional funds generated annually by a lottery would be used to help students by providing college scholarships and technical school tuition, help schools purchase computers for classrooms, and help teachers pay for graduate-level training.

Even with voter approval to amend the state’s constitution to lift the ban on state-sponsored lotteries, the outcome of the lottery issue is still uncertain.

Lawmakers must decide details of how the games will be regulated and specifics on how any money garnered will be distributed.

Early returns showed the No Lottery effort trailing in a 60-40 percentage split, leading Hodges to claim victory by 7:30 p.m., only a half hour after the polls closed. As the evening wore on, the No Lottery effort gained a little ground — closing to 56-44 percent at the halfway point in the vote tally. According to the last figures available, the lottery amendment carried by a 54-46 percent margin.

“Obviously we are disappointed in the vote,” said Joe Mack, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Christian life concerns department. “But just because the state has approved a lottery, that doesn’t mean Baptists will change their position. We still oppose all forms of gambling.”

Mack said that the CLC will work with groups to secure funds for education that do not include gambling revenue.

Even though the No Lottery 2000 campaign did not win, the effort was not without some degree of success, he maintained.

“The campaign let us know we can mobilize people on social and moral issues,” Mack said. “We appreciate what Baptists did across the state to communicate with people,” he added. “The experience was good for Baptists in educating and preparing us for future campaigns.”

Noting that almost half of the state’s population said they did not want a lottery, Hamlet attributed much to the work of South Carolina Baptists.

“As a South Carolina Baptist, I am extremely proud of our denomination, which stepped up to the line to fight the lottery,” Hamlet said. “Many people across the state now see us as a people of conviction and courage.

“No Lottery 2000 could not have had the impact it had without the South Carolina Baptist Convention,” he noted. Hamlet said the organization built “the broadest coalition in South Carolina history,” bringing together various faith groups and races, upstate and lower state, men and women, businesses and individuals to oppose the lottery.

B. Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said, “Although we’re disappointed that the people voted for the lottery, it’s not the end of the world.

“Our focus as South Carolina Baptists is on missions and evangelism, and the lottery will not change that,” Driggers said. “The lottery decision just means we’ve got more work to do, in sharing who Jesus is and how he can change lives throughout our state, nation and world.”

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  • Todd Deaton