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Gambling opponents weather mixed results in 7 states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Maine, West Virginia and Arkansas dealt organized gambling stinging defeats in their states Nov. 7, while state lottery and pari-mutuel betting proponents prevailed in South Carolina, South Dakota, Colorado and Massachusetts.

Maine voters, by a margin of 60-40 percent, rejected a measure that would have allowed 1,500 video gambling machines at the Scarborough Downs racetrack, where pari-mutuel betting on horses is already allowed. Opponents feared passage would open the door for video gambling machines to spread statewide.

Meanwhile, a local ballot initiative in Greenbrier County in West Virginia to allow casino-type gambling at the historic Greenbrier Resort was defeated by a 2-1 margin. Gambling interests, who poured $1.1 million into their effort, were hoping to transform an old fallout shelter in the Greenbrier Hotel into a casino.

Opponents defeated the measure with the help of anti-gambling materials supplied by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and after spending only $20,814. The Greenbrier vote was seen as a test case that could have opened the entire state to casino-type gambling.

“People are becoming more aware of the problems caused by gambling and do not want any more open range gambling in their states,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for research and a specialist on gambling for the ERLC.

“That any gambling is accepted in our country is unfortunate since gambling preys on the poor and desperate, denigrates hard work as the means to success and fulfillment, and teaches people to seek personal gain at the expense of others. Between these negative values and the tragic consequences of gambling addiction we are made aware once again by these most recent votes that we must continue to educate people until they push back the gambling machine into the darkness where it belongs.”

But not all the news for anti-gambling supporters was good Tuesday.

South Dakotans, by a 54-46 percent margin, voted against abolishing video lottery and by 52-48 split raised the betting limits at casinos in the tourist town of Deadwood and at nine Indian reservation casinos. They did so after the governor threatened them with the highest tax increase in state history.

The votes culminated a seven-year struggle between pro- and anti-gambling forces in the state. The legislature raised the betting limit in 1993, a move that was supported by actor Kevin Costner, who proposed building a resort near Deadwood. The resort was put on hold after voters later rejected the action.

Originally people were allowed to place small bets in Deadwood to promote tourism and fund historic preservation efforts. But government officials have become increasingly addicted to the revenue generated by gambling, said Kathleen Christopherson, treasurer of No On High Stakes, the group that opposed the measure.

“We were outspent by about $275,000 to $6,000,” she said. “This is terribly disappointing. This will provide more money to market gambling and lead to an expansion of the industry in our state.” She said she also expects Costner to build his resort.

In Colorado voters by a 51-49 percent margin approved joining multi-state lottery games such as Powerball, joining at least 20 other states in the process.

“The Colorado vote is both encouraging and disappointing,” said Ron Reno, senior policy analyst with Focus on the Family. “It is encouraging in the sense that the pre-election polls seemed to indicate this would be a slam dunk for the gambling industry. Obviously it was a very, very close call, but nonetheless a loss. We’re looking at more lives and families that are going to be destroyed at the altar of Lady Luck.”

Reno praised the churches, particularly in South Dakota, Arkansas and South Carolina, for putting together a “Herculean effort” against well-greased gambling industry and state governments which promote “an activity that is clearly predatory and harmful.”

“In states where governors opposed gambling we won and in states where the governors did not oppose it we lost,” said Tom Grey, director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG). He lauded the efforts of Govs. Angus King of Maine and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, where casino gambling was rejected by a 63-37 margin Tuesday.

Grey was particularly critical of Govs. William Janklow of South Dakota and Jim Hodges of South Carolina where voters by a 55-45 margin lifted the ban on a state lottery. Both governors supported lotteries as a means of funding education and other government programs.

“We now have a product [gambling] that the government once criminalized but is now using to fund government services,” Grey said. “This is extremely dangerous. Gambling is an illegal product that government licenses.”

He predicted that lotteries would soon become major issues in Tennessee and North Carolina and again in Arkansas in the near future.

“The government has become a predator and is now asking churches to care for the broken bodies it throws on the churches’ doorsteps. It will be interesting to see if the church will remain in the battle or limp off.”

Pro-gambling forces also won a battle with animal rights activists in Massachusetts, where a ballot initiative banning greyhound racing was narrowly defeated.

Animal rights activists said the greyhounds are being abused, abandoned or put to death when they stop winning. Track owners denied abuse and said shutting down the states’ two tracks would put 1,200 employees out of work.

Grey said owners of the greyhound tracks are losing money and want to add video poker at their tracks.

“These results reveal a country still divided over the merits of gambling,” Duke said. “What we do see, however, a growing opposition to certain kinds of gambling.”

He said “video poker is on its last legs” but that he remains troubled over the growing number of state-operated lotteries.

Richard Land, ERLC president, added, “This is surely not the time to give up the fight. Gambling remains a growing and destructive, cancerous blight in every state where it sets its roots.”
Debbie Moore contributed to this article.

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  • Don Hinkle