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Gambling loses in 4 states; backlash cited of empty promises

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-gambling forces went down to defeat in at least four states Nov. 2, which a longtime opponent called a possible “tipping point” in the fight against gambling.

Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG), said gambling proponents have now lost ballot proposals in at least five states this year and won only one.

That follows turning back 43 of 46 attempts to expand gambling in 2003, he said.

“These results indicate there is a backlash of ‘Enough is enough,’” Grey said of the losing attempts for casino and slot machine expansion. “[Gambling interests] haven’t been able to deliver on their promises. They can’t say, ‘We’ve gambled ourselves rich in California, so let’s add more.’”

On Tuesday, voters in California, Nebraska and Washington turned down attempts to establish casinos or slot machine parlors, install slots at betting facilities or expand gambling options, while a vote in Florida remained too close to call Wednesday morning.

In addition, Michigan residents approved a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of any proposed gambling expansion in the future.

The only pro-gambling result came in Oklahoma, where voters adopted a lottery by a 65-35 percent margin. Just over 928,000 voted in favor of a lottery and 507,000 against.

An official with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission echoed Grey’s comments, saying citizens are seeing the flaws behind gambling.

“Most Americans know someone whose life has been significantly affected by a gambling problem,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research in the ERLC’s Washington, D.C. office. “They are no longer interested in continuing to expand gambling and all the problems that go with it.”

While the public has been willing to try it as a means to economic revitalization, they have discovered the industry’s promises aren’t fulfilled, Duke said.

“The only people enriched by gambling are the gambling establishments and those few businesses that support them,” Duke said. “Everyone else suffers. The American people were willing to give it a try but I think they’re finding out that there’s no content behind the promise.”

A pair of grassroots leaders whose groups defeated statewide initiatives in Nebraska and Washington were ecstatic over the outcomes.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Pat Loontjer, executive director of Nebraska’s Gambling With The Good Life. “We were outspent 25-1 and still pulled it off. We said, ‘If we can pull it off, it’ll be a miracle.’ We were giving God the glory all night.”

The Omaha-based citizens group got a visible boost from Nancy Osborne, wife of U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, formerly the football coach at the University of Nebraska.

Five churches donated $40,000 to the organization, with much of the money used to air TV commercials featuring the coach’s wife.

In Washington, where voters turned down a proposal to authorize additional electronic scratch ticket machines, a church leader said voters will hold officials accountable for supporting future gambling expansion.

“Even under the guise of reducing property taxes, voters rejected this initiative because they did not want 2,000 casinos with slot machines in their neighborhoods,” said John Boonstra, executive minister with the Seattle-based Washington Association of Churches.

“The kind of gambling envisioned in this initiative does not reflect the vision of a just and caring community that seeks to build its social fabric,” Boonstra added. “Gambling preys upon the poor and disproportionately affects their lives.”

In state-by-state results and ballot summaries as reported by secretaries of state:

— California voters resoundingly rejected a pair of ballot initiatives that would have expanded slot machines and Indian casino options.

Proposition 68 went down to the largest defeat nationwide, 7.6 million to 1.5 million, an 84-16 percent landslide.

The measure would have authorized the governor to negotiate tribal compact amendments requiring Indian tribes to pay 25 percent of slot machine and gaming device revenues to a government fund.

If the tribes didn’t accept the amendments, the measure authorized 16 non-tribal racetracks and gambling establishments to operate 30,000 slot machines and gaming devices. A third of the net revenues were to fund public safety, regulatory and social programs.

Proposition 70 also suffered a stinging defeat, 6.8 million to 2.2 million, or 76-24 percent. It would have granted renewable 99-year gaming compacts to Indian tribes and removed any limits on the numbers of machines, facilities and types of games on Indian lands.

— Facing a series of constitutional amendments and initiatives, Nebraska voters soundly defeated attempts to establish casinos and slot machine parlors.

One casino measure, which also would have opened the door to tribal casinos, lost by 443,000 to 241,000, or 65-35 percent.

A second, which would have allowed two casinos in Omaha, up to 4,900 slots statewide and a dozen slot parlors along two interstates, went down to defeat 360,000 to 321,000, or 53-47 percent.

In addition, an initiative to allow voters to pass laws authorizing and operating games of chance failed by a vote of 347,000 to 331,000, or 51-49 percent.

— With nearly 99 percent of the vote counted in Florida, opponents of a state amendment that could lead to slot machines at betting parlors in two counties were clinging to a 6,794-vote lead out of more than 6.8 million ballots, with absentee votes yet to be counted.

Amendment 4 would authorize voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties –- home to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, respectively -– to hold referendums on whether to authorize slot machines in existing pari-mutuel facilities. Those would include thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing tracks and jai lai venues.

The results showed 3,411,349 opposed and 3,404,555 in favor.

— In Washington, opponents of Initiative Measure 892 carried the day by a 61-39 margin. Approximately 1.1 million voted against the proposal, while 722,000 favored it.

The initiative would have authorized licensed, non-tribal gambling establishments to operate the same type and number of electronic scratch ticket machines as tribal governments. A portion of the tax revenue was to be used to reduce state property taxes.

— Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that requires voter approval of any future gambling expansion proposal.

The amendment attracted nearly 1.3 votes in favor and about 900,000 against, a margin of 59-41 percent. It means that expansion proposals must receive statewide voter approval, as well as in the township or city where the gambling will occur.

While it applies to any new state lottery games utilizing “table games” or “player operated mechanical or electronic devices,” the measure exempts Indian tribal gaming and three casinos in Detroit.

Despite the encouraging results, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Duke warned the battle will continue. Until a social stigma is again attached to gambling, its proponents will continue to push for more kinds of gambling, he said.

However, Duke is encouraged that the American people have come to the place where they do not want to see more gambling.

“Soon the opportunity will be there for those of us who understand how damaging gambling is to begin to eliminate some forms of gambling in our communities,” Duke said.

However, churches need to be careful in expressing opposition, the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling’s Grey said.

Those who try to press the issue on the basis of gambling as a personal sin will lose every time, he said.

“Wherever we can get a political, social and religious coalition to go out and say, ‘This is the truth about gambling, we can win,” Grey said. “The question is not about whether people gamble. It’s whether we put it on Main Street and call it good.”

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  • Ken Walker