BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–The future of a state lottery now rests in the hands of Tennessee legislators.
The legislators were given that responsibility on Nov. 5 when 893,646 Tennesseans (58 percent) cast ballots to remove the lottery prohibition from the state constitution, compared to 658,543 (42 percent) who voted to keep the state gambling-free.
The lottery actually won, however, by only 59,066 votes. Efforts to amend the state constitution require 50 percent plus one of the votes cast in the governor’s race. According to the latest unofficial election results printed in the Nov. 6 issue of The Tennessean, the total votes cast in the governor’s race numbered 1,669,158. The referendum needed 834,580 votes to be approved. Only 1,552,189 votes were cast on the lottery referendum, meaning that 116,969 people who voted for a governor chose not to take a stand on the lottery issue.
Of the state’s 95 counties, the lottery was defeated in 14 of them. Counties voting against the lottery were Carter, Chester, Crockett, DeKalb, Gibson, Grainger, Hancock, Hardin, Hawkins, Henderson, Madison, Sumner, Weakley and Wayne.
As expected. the lottery carried all of the major metropolitan areas in the state by a wide margin.
In the state’s four largest counties, the lottery received 368,221 yes votes — Davidson (93,549-60,361), Hamilton (53,627-29,925), Knox (66,248-45,814) and Shelby (154,797-74,574).
Two of the larger counties won by anti-lottery supporters included Madison (13,998-12,451) and Sumner (19,579-19,299).
The change in the state constitution will authorize, but not require, the General Assembly to establish a lottery.
Under the amended constitution, the lottery would pay for college scholarships for qualifying students, with any remaining revenues going to construction and technology projects in K-12 schools and to early-learning and after-school programs.
Several Tennessee Baptists active in the effort to keep the state as one of only three without any form of legalized gambling expressed disappointment over the passage of the lottery.
Larry Murphy, director of missions for Madison-Chester and Crockett Baptist associations, serves in an area where lottery opponents won the vote.
“I’m heavily disappointed. However, I am proud that a majority of the votes against the lottery came from west Tennessee.”
And despite the defeat, Murphy reminded Tennessee Baptists that “our God is still in control. We’ve made an effort to educate the public about the impact of a lottery on the poor. Now, if a lottery is created, we must be responsive in helping those who are negatively impacted.”
Nashville pastor Paul Durham of Radnor Baptist Church noted that “we lost the battle in getting the votes we needed, but we did not lose the war because we were faithful to the teachings and commands of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
“To this we give him the praise and the glory,” said Durham, who served as treasurer for Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance and chairman of the anti-lottery subcommittee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention executive board.
Durham observed that in looking at the numbers, “it is evident that many church members, including those of Baptist congregations, voted for the lottery.”
He added, however, that there were a lot of committed people in Tennessee who fought to keep the state gambling-free.
“We changed the minds of many people, just not enough.”
Bobbie Patray, president of Tennessee Eagle Forum and a board member of Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance, also felt lottery opponents did all they could.
“I didn’t want to wake up on Nov. 6 thinking there was one more thing we should have done to urge defeat of the lottery. I think we did all we could,” she said.
She said she was “stunned” that more Tennesseans voted for the lottery than voted for Governor-elect Phil Bredesen. In contrast to most elections when the number of persons voting for a candidate or issue decreases as voters move down the ballot, she said in this election “more votes were cast down the ballot.”
Patray, a member of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, described herself as “profoundly disappointed” in the outcome of the lottery vote.
“The majority of the voters said we want to be like everybody else. We’ll see how that plays out. A few people won elections last night, but most Tennesseans are going to lose.”
Another GFTA board member, Ivy Scarborough of Jackson, agreed.
The real issue behind the lottery loss is a lack of spiritual depth among Christians and churches, he said.
“The number one focus of our churches should be on spiritual renewal and revival. If our churches were as Spirit-filled as they need to be, the vote on the lottery amendment would have failed overwhelmingly,” he said.
“What we have allowed to happen is for worldly values to infiltrate our lives and our churches. Until we’re ready to repent and become the light on the hill, we’re going to be failing in influencing our culture. We must commit ourselves to not being conformed to this world,” said Scarborough, a Jackson attorney and member of Bethel Baptist Church, Humboldt.
Several of the leaders said Tennesseans need to be in contact with the legislators who will determine the fate of the lottery.
Patray predicted that the size of the vote will result in the legislature moving forward to establish a lottery. “It is imperative that the enabling legislation be as carefully crafted as possible,” she said.
Scarborough and Murphy agreed. It is “extremely important” for Tennesseans opposed to a lottery to make their opinions known to state legislators, Scarborough said.
Murphy said he hopes those opposed to the lottery will contact their legislators and urge them not to proceed with establishing a lottery. He noted that his associations passed resolutions opposing a lottery at their annual meetings in October and said “those will be forwarded to the legislators who represent us.”