News Articles

Gambling proponents prevail against S.C. & Ala. governors & in Mo., Calif.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist and anti-gambling leaders called on churches to “wake up” and confront the “800-pound gorilla” — known as legalized gambling — that is out of its cage after the Nov. 3 elections and roaming across America.
Their warnings come on the heels of votes in which lottery and legalized gambling forces prevailed in gubernatorial races in South Carolina and Alabama. Pro-gambling forces also won ballot initiatives in Missouri and California, thus strengthening their grip in both states.
In each case pro-gambling candidates and initiatives were buoyed by record-setting amounts of campaign advertising dollars.
“This is no longer the church-school picnic,” said Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. “The 800-pound gorilla is out the cage and roaming the land, and if he targets a governor, he will take him out. This is a wake-up call and question is whether more Americans will get in this fight. The battle is between God and mammon — and mammon won yesterday.”
Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he was saddened for the children who will suffer and for the families and marriages that will be destroyed as a result of the Nov. 3 pro-gambling vote.
“It seems that the pain must increase before enough people begin to scream,” Duke said. “It breaks my heart to think that our country must continue on this insane course. My only consolation is in the knowledge that the day will come when the people of this great nation will say that they have had enough. On that day, the gamblers will watch in helpless dismay as they are forced back into the darkest recesses of society. The day will come when no amount of money will start the people from rising up and defending themselves from the greed that is stealing the life and livelihood of millions of our fellow citizens. May God help us to hasten that day for the sake of the millions of people whose lives are being sacrificed on the altars of greedy government and big business.”
In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Gov. David Beasley, a member of Columbia’s Shandon Baptist Church, lost to Democrat Jim Hodges 53-45 percent. Hodges, who supports a state lottery to help pay for education, was supported by millions of dollars in campaign advertising provided by the state’s $2.5 billion-a-year video poker industry, which Beasley pledged to eliminate. Though Hodges opposed video gambling as House minority leader, he favored letting the people of South Carolina decide the future of the industry’s fate.
Gambling proponents plastered the state with billboards that attacked Beasley. One campaign ad reflective of the race featured “Bubba” behind a convenience store counter drawling about how Georgians “just luuuv David Beasley” because South Carolinians buy Georgia lottery tickets that fund education there.
“The election in South Carolina was not about the candidates, it was about the impact of organized gambling,” said Mike Hamlet, pastor of the First Baptist Church of North Spartanburg and president of the SBC’s Pastors’ Conference. “We are becoming a gambling-dependent society. The gamblers are spending enough money to even sell Christians on the lie that you can get something for nothing. The people lost and greed won.”
The South Carolina governor’s race underscores the increasing influence that campaign contributions, often in the form of so-called “soft money,” are exerting on states. One study, commissioned earlier this year by The New York Times, projected campaign contributions by gambling interests to exceed $85 million in this year’s election.
The money pumped into South Carolina by video gambling interests appeared not only to sway the governor’s race, but also bolstered the number of Democrats in the state legislature.
“This is not a question of the issues,” lamented state GOP chairman Henry McMaster. “What we are seeing is the effect of millions of dollars from the video gambling industry.”
The South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee expressed deep concern earlier this year over the growing influence that gambling interests are having in the Palmetto State.
“As you know, we as South Carolina Baptists have stood against gambling in any form for many years,” it said in a recent letter. “Just this past spring, we spearheaded an all-out effort to ban the most deadly practice of gambling that exists, video poker. At that time, the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against video poker. The state Senate had the votes to pass the ban, but a small group of senators managed to block it by means of a filibuster.”
Exit polls in South Carolina showed that more than three in every five voters disapproved of the state’s video gambling industry, yet almost 60 percent approved starting a state-run lottery. The top two issues among South Carolinians were education (25 percent) and gambling (20 percent).
Beasley, who tried desperately not to make the election a referendum on the lottery, was forced to say again in mid-October that he would not stand in the way of a vote, though he would continue to oppose the lottery.
Anti-gambling and lottery forces tried to educate South Carolinians on the dangers of gambling, but it did not impact the Nov. 3 election. For example, a study completed earlier this year showed that one in five of South Carolinians who play video poker are already addicted and that the number will likely grow.
The results in the Alabama’s gubernatorial race were almost identical to South Carolina, with a pro-state lottery Democrat defeating an anti-state lottery incumbent Republican governor.
Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, who proposes a state lottery which he says would provide an estimated $150 million a year for merit-based college scholarships, pre-kindergarten programs and computers, defeated Gov. Fob James, 58-42 percent.
Siegelman, the first Democrat elected governor since the late George C. Wallace in 1982, said his victory “sends a clear message to the Alabama legislature. It sends a clear message to the lieutenant governor and to the next speaker. That message is this. The people of Alabama deserve the right to vote on an education lottery.”
The South Carolina and Alabama governors’ races seem to indicate that traditional moral and religious opposition to gambling is disappearing across the South. Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, told the Associated Press earlier this month that residents of non-lottery states are realizing that their counterparts in states with lotteries, like Georgia, are getting a big payback: dollars for public education without increased taxes.
“It pits two kinds of competing ideas. It’s the lottery and it’s bad and it’s wrong, juxtaposed against” a belief that lottery proceeds benefit education, Bullock said. Education now “sells well in the South,” he said. For example, some Georgians who initially opposed the state lottery have changed their minds, now that it is paying for their sons and daughters to attend college.
“The southern electorate is far more opposed to raising taxes than to gambling,” Bullock said.
Alabama voters, by a 54-44 percent margin, said in exit polls that they favored a state lottery. Of those who said they supported a lottery, 87 percent said they voted for Siegelman. Of those voting, 36 percent identified themselves as conservative Christians and 72 percent of those supported James, while 28 percent voted for Siegelman.
“We’re seeing, even in states where there is a strong Christian presence, that there are many who don’t see anything wrong with it,” Hamlet said. “It’s a reflection of a society that says, ‘Give it to me today, I don’t care about tomorrow or what it does to anyone else.’ It is also a reflection of our culture where we seem to be rejecting any type of moral standard.”
Duke said the church is simply not voting and, of those who do, many do not understand the dangers associated with gambling. “We have failed to teach our children the importance of moral values and good citizenship,” he said.
“It is very disappointing that gambling advocates won on so many fronts,” Duke added. “Good men have been forced from office in South Carolina and Alabama in the name of state lotteries. This is not a step forward for these states. The weakest and most vulnerable members of society have been dealt another blow by big-business gambling.”
Meanwhile, in Missouri, voters amended their constitution to legalize slot machines on casinos that float in artificial moats. The gambling proposal, popularly known as the “boats in moats” issue, passed by 55-45 percent. Missouri voters had already approved riverboat gambling in 1992, but gambling foes said the “boats in moats” — or 10 of the state’s 16 casinos — did not qualify. Ultimately, “boats in moats” was put on the ballot following a Missouri Supreme Court decision that said the state legislature overstepped its authority when it permitted casinos in artificial basins up to 1,000 feet from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers’ channels. The proposal, a state constitutional amendment known as Amendment 9, would retroactively legalize games of chance at six casino complexes, including those in the Kansas City area. Games of chance include slot machines, which provide about two-thirds of the casinos’ revenue in the state. Passage of the amendment was a major victory for the gambling industry, which might had been forced to move their boats or even close had the measure failed. But the gambling industry poured in more than $10 million to back Amendment 9.
“They out spent us 10 to one,” Grey said.
Another anti-gambling group, Show Me the River, said the casino’s deep pockets were too much to overcome.
“It’s such an unlevel playing field,” said Mark Andrews, chairman of Show Me the River. “We will probably end up spending about $200,000 and you just couldn’t compete.”
About 20 million people boarded Missouri boats in the past year, bringing in about $803 million and providing about 10,000 jobs. But a study commissioned by the Missouri Council on Economic Integrity indicated that the gambling boats may have drained the state of up to $185 million in 1996 and contributed to other social and economic ills.
“If there were only one or two boats, I might feel differently,” said Rob Goode, a retired Teamster, who voted against Amendment 9. “But they’ve satuarated the city and there’s too many of them. They are just causing too much heartache and too many problems for a lot of people.”
In California, the Indian gambling measure, Proposition 5, allowing Indian casinos to continue using video slot machines that officials contend are illegal, passed by a 63-37 percent margin. Experts say it may be the most expensive campaign in the nation’s history, with Indian tribes pouring in approximately $70 million in support of the measure. Even though Nevada casino interests contributed approximately $40 million in an effort to defeat Proposition 5, anti-gambling forces say that the amounts contributed by both show how much money gambling interests can pour into elections. The total raised between the two sides was nearly twice the previous record amount ever raised for a single initiative.
“I think it’s disappointing that the proponents were able to spend more than $70 million, which is more than any other campaign in history to pass an initiative that is not constitutional,” said Gina Stassi, spokeswoman for the “No on Proposition 5” campaign. The “No on Proposition 5” group said it would likely file a lawsuit to stop the measure, possibly as early as Nov. 4.
Cathy Christian, attorney for the “No on 5” campaign, declined to disclose precise details about the lawsuit, but said it would try to prove the measure was unconstitutional. It was not immediately know who the plaintiffs would be in the lawsuit. Outgoing Gov. Pete Wilson has said Prop 5 violates a state constitutional provision that was approved by voters in 1984 as part of the lottery law, which outlaws the type of casino that operates legally in Nevada and New Jersey.
“It used to be that our enemy in gambling was the mob, but our political, business and religious leadership had better recognize the new threat from the new cartel composed of Native Americans, state governments and the Fortune 500 gambling companies,” said Gray, who announced that his organization would be closing its Washington, D.C., office soon because of a lack of revenue. “It’s time for the church to wake up.”

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle