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Arkansas may face ballot proposal for casino gambling, state lottery

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Baptists and other gambling opponents in Arkansas are organizing to oppose a proposed amendment to the state constitution to establish a state lottery and allow casinos in six Arkansas counties.

A petition backed by the Arkansas Casino Corp. was filed with the secretary of state July 7 with more than 80,000 signatures. If placed on the Nov. 7 ballot and approved by voters, the amendment would give the corporation the right to build a casino in each of the six counties: Pulaski, Sebastian, Garland, Boone, Crittenden and Miller.

The proposed constitutional amendment also would establish a state lottery, authorize charitable gambling and create a state gambling commission to oversee operations at the casinos.

Larry Page, as executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, will be at the helm of a statewide campaign to fight the proposal. Page urged Baptists to pray for the upcoming campaign, to get involved and to support the campaign financially. “I encourage those who don’t regularly contribute to the Faith and Ethics Council to do so now and for those who do contribute to go beyond their regular gifts,” Page said.

He also encouraged associational directors of missions and pastors to educate people about gambling issues and encourage them to register to vote and to get out to vote against this amendment.

The Arkansas Casino Corp. plans to run an aggressive campaign to attract voter support. Bobby May, president of the corporation, promised to run the campaign “as if we were running for a statewide office like governor or the U.S. Senate,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He also said they would spend whatever necessary on the campaign.

Page said that while the gambling industry has the money, Baptists have the human resources. He noted that when casino gambling was on the ballot in 1996, it was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent because “our people went to the trouble to register and to vote.

“Baptists need to engage their families, neighbors, co-workers and fellow community members in conversations about gambling issues,” Page said. “They need to write letters to the editor and influence public opinion. We are representing kingdom work. We are going to prevail. We have the passion.”

While Baptists have obvious moral objections to gambling the proposal is bad for the state for social and political reasons as well, Page said.

“It is exploitation by the gambling industry and by the government that supports it,” Page said. “It is important to convey to the world outside that there are social implications. If passed, there will be increases in crime, bankruptcies, spousal and child abuse and other social problems.”

While proponents bill it as an economic benefit to the state, Page said “gambling is a poor economic tool.” Economic studies favorable to gambling are always financed by the gambling industry itself, he said, while independent studies reveal gambling is detrimental to a state’s economy.

The amendment calls for casinos to pay a 15 percent casino tax on revenues, with 12 percent of revenue paid to the state’s general fund so sales tax on groceries could be reduced or eliminated. Almost half of the lottery revenue, meanwhile, supposedly will fund scholarships for high school graduates.

For more information about the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, go to www.afec.org or call 1-800-NOLOTTERY.

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  • Charlie Warren