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Defeat of Branson casino proposal shows ‘prayer over money’

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Religious conservatives who flocked to the polls Aug. 3 to support a constitutional amendment in Missouri affirming traditional marriage also helped defeat an amendment to permit a riverboat gambling casino near Branson, a national tourist destination known for its love of God, family and country.

By a 56-44 percent margin, voters defeated Amendment 1, which would have amended the state’s constitution to allow casino gambling on the White River in Rockaway Beach. The measure, along with another ballot issue, Amendment 2 (constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage) motivated Christians to vote and contributed to a record turnout for a primary in the state. Some 43 percent of Missouri’s approximately 3.5 million registered voters showed up at polls on a day in which the heat index hit 110.

“I think the marriage amendment mobilized the church to get out this vote, and gambling suffered greatly because of that,” said Rodney Albert, chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission and pastor of Hallsville Baptist Church. “The message of the church is penetrating the hardness of our culture.”

The 600,000-member MBC helped lead the voter registration and education effort statewide. The convention launched a massive “NoMOGambling” education campaign. The slogan sent the double message of no more gambling in general as well as no “MO” gambling in Missouri.

The convention created a website, www.nomogambling.com, that provided resources on the issue. The MBC also mailed approximately 500,000 bulletin inserts to churches along with informational CDs. Pastors throughout the state preached sermons on gambling as sin and prayer groups throughout the state made the issue a matter of priority.

“We certainly cannot underestimate the power of God in this,” Albert said. “God rewards faithful laborers, and we have both the natural blessing of people who are faithful to God’s Word and we have the superintending hand of Providence who blessed Missouri by shutting the door on gambling. God blesses the efforts of righteous men, and when we seek to advance His cause we’re doing the real work of the Christian. The real heart of the Christian is to glorify God in whatever way possible.”

An alternative media strategy featuring websites, an electronic newsletter and e-mails by the “Show Me You Care” campaign, also proved to be decisive. The pro-family initiative was fueled by the marketing expertise and financial backing of Peter Herschend, vice chairman of Herschend Family Entertainment which owns Silver Dollar City near Branson.

Forwarded e-mails were a vital part of the alternative strategy. Show Me You Care sent more than 1,000 e-mails twice a week, Herschend said. Half of those went to re-senders like the Missouri convention, which added to the effectiveness in getting the word out, he said.

“The Christian Homeschoolers Association in the state has a lady in West Plains who gets our e-mail twice a week,” Herschend said. “She, in turn, just hits the button and redistributes that information to her 2,000 households.”

Before the vote, Herschend and his wife, JoDee, sent a personal appeal to people in their e-mail address books to vote no on the casino, asking those same people to forward the appeal to everyone in their e-mail address books.

Marketing research paid for by Show Me You Care indicated that Missouri residents needed to be reminded of their belief that the state has enough gambling.

The other half of the Show Me You Care marketing emphasis, Herschend said, was to reinforce how gambling runs contrary to Missouri’s family friendly image.

“The advertising from Las Vegas says, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’” Herschend said. “That implies that something’s going on that shouldn’t be going on. That’s precisely the image we don’t want to have in Missouri, and the Missouri voters, in our research, have said that.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star editorialized against the casino. Both cities already have their own casinos.

Money did not buy this election. The MBC spent $36,000 and Show Me You Care spent $1.4 million. The opposition spent an estimated $12 million.

Herschend said pro-family groups had something else going for them.

“I’ll take prayer over money,” he said. “The Lord’s on our side. I have such a tremendous prayer group working. I have consciously sought out prayer groups around the nation to be in prayer about this. I believe very, very strongly that this is a tool that they don’t have.

“The issue is one that excites passion on our side. The people who are for gambling, other than the people immediately involved in it, are not passionate about it. If you can find the passion button that motivates people, you can win in spite of millions of dollars on the other side.”

The Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive director, David Clippard, was delighted that voters spoke so clearly, with such a well-defined Christian worldview, on two moral issues –- gambling and a constitutional amendment upholding traditional marriage.

“We are so pleased that the Lord gave us a victory on two battlefronts,” Clippard said. “We have much to be thankful for.”

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  • Allen Palmeri