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Baptists join S.C. effort to rid state of video poker

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–Nearly 60 South Carolina clergy,
counselors, lawmakers, lawyers and other citizens met Jan.
16 to birth a grassroots campaign to abolish video poker in
the state.
Reiterating Gov. David Beasley’s pronouncement of video
poker as a “cancer,” representatives from the governor’s
office, the South Carolina Christian Action Council, the
South Carolina Baptist Christian Life & Public Affairs
Committee, Concerned Citizens Against Legalized Gambling,
various churches and other individuals formed a 10-member
committee to organize the campaign.
“There is no question that video poker is a cancer in
our state,” said B. Carlisle Driggers, executive
director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
“We are willing and eager to bring our resources to bear to
bring video poker to a close in South Carolina.”
Among other Baptists present at the meeting were Tony
Crouch, pastor of Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church, Laurens,
and chairman of the Christian Life & Public Affairs
Committee; layman Flynn Harrell, a former president of the
state convention and member of Kathwood Baptist Church,
Columbia; and Bob Shearer, pastor, Harbison Baptist Church,
“I can’t speak for all pastors,” Shearer said, “but I’m
going to do everything I can not to let this thing have
control over any family in my congregation.”
Tom Gray, executive director of the National Coalition
Against Legalized Gambling, spoke to the group. “There are
three kinds of people in the world,” he said. “There are
people who watch things happen, people who it happens to,
and people who make things happen. You have the ability in
this room, right now, to make things happen — to stop video
The 10-member committee will meet Jan. 23 to begin
organizing the campaign.
More information about the initiative may be obtained
by calling the South Carolina convention’s Christian Life
Concerns office at (803) 765-0030 or 1-800-723-7242.
Gov. Beasley, a Southern Baptist and member of
Columbia’s Shandon Baptist Church, has thrown down the
gauntlet to South Carolina lawmakers by delivering to them
his version of a state budget that writes off $61 million in
revenue generated by license fees on video poker machines.
Henry Brown, another Southern Baptist and chairman of
the powerful House Ways and Means Committee which will write
the new budget, also has voiced his opposition to gambling,
saying he is personally in favor of a budget that does not
show revenue from the video poker machines. Brown, a
Republican from Hanahan, is a member of Cooper River Baptist
Church, North Charleston.
“Gov. Beasley took a gallant stand and is to be
commended for it,” Brown said in an interview with the
Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the state Baptist
Gambling “goes against my principles as a Christian,”
Brown said. He pointed out, however, that the state
legislature is divided over the issue of video poker. “This
will be a tough decision,” he said, “because it affects so
many people. I am not exactly sure which way it will go.”
Some lawmakers are in favor of a statewide referendum
passing the political hot potato off to the people for their
aye or nay on video poker’s fate in South Carolina. It would
be difficult at this point to predict the outcome of such a
referendum. Earlier polls have indicated a majority of South
Carolinians favor gambling, but there is also indication
that the tide is turning — and perhaps has already turned –
– against gambling in the state.
Popular with many legislators, meanwhile, is the belief
that tighter regulations and higher taxes on the video poker
machines are to be preferred over the perhaps-impossible
task of trying to close down an industry packing such
political punch. Opponents of higher taxes, however, contend
such taxes would only have the effect of creating yet
another of gambling’s long list of victims — in this
instance, a state government with a growing addiction to the
revenue generated by video poker.
Brown said that if the Ways and Means Committee writes
a budget that includes the revenue from video poker fees and
taxes, it would appear as a “non-recurring” item because it
is possible that the Supreme Court will rule that video
poker gambling is a lottery and is thereby forbidden by the
South Carolina constitution.
Brown said the question of what to do on any question
that has ethical implications “weighs heavily on me.”
“Without a deep Christian faith, I could not sit in
this chair,” he said.
Brown emphasized that South Carolina’s churches, more
than the legislature, occupy the better position to impact
the state for good. “We can change the laws,” he said, “but
churches can change the hearts.”

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  • Amanda Phifer & Don Kirkland