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Lottery, gaming votes make Okla. ‘predator’ of its people

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Oklahomans approved one measure creating a state lottery for education and another expanding gaming at Indian casinos and racetracks Nov. 2.

State question 705, which creates a state lottery to benefit the state’s educational system, passed with a 64 percent majority, while 68 percent of voters approved state question 706, a companion measure creating a trust fund for lottery proceeds and preventing legislators from using lottery funds to fund causes other than education.

Lottery proponents argue that the state lottery will generate $150 million annually for education, according to the Associated Press.

Voters also approved state question 712, which enacts the State-Tribal Gaming Act, with approximately 59 percent of the vote. The measure expands the types of gaming machines that can be used on Native American tribal land and allows electronic gaming machines at three state-licensed racetracks.

The measure gives the state some authority over gaming on Native American land and allows state government to share gaming profits. The state’s portion of proceeds from gaming at racetracks will go toward education and compulsive gambling treatment programs.

Supporters contend that the tribal gaming act will generate $70 million annually, according to the Associated Press.

But Oklahomans for Good Government, a group that opposed both the lottery and tribal gaming measures, argued that expanded gambling will have negative social and economic consequences on the state.

The new gambling measures could transform Oklahoma into one of the most gaming-friendly states in the nation, Oklahomans for Good Government chairman Forrest Claunch told Baptist Press.

“Oklahoma has now effectively changed from a state that strictly prohibited slot machines into one that embraces that,” said Claunch, a Republican state representative from Midwest City. “So things will change. With 39 recognized tribes and 35 percent of all Native American population in the world, Oklahoma is now positioned to become a gambling state like none other.”

John Yeats, editor of the Baptist Messenger of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said after the election, “Our progeny may ask us one day, ‘How in the world did you allow our state to become the predator of our people?’ We may wonder if we did enough or if we could have done more to help educate Oklahomans about the corruption and vice we have just invited to set up shop in our state.

“However, we must ever remember that our sovereign God reigns in heaven and earth,” said Yeats, who also is recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. “If we are faithful to Him, we will have new opportunities to minister to those experiencing the broken finances and broken relationships precipitated by these gambling measures.”

Support for the gaming measures was generated largely by appeals from politicians rather than a grassroots conviction that gambling would benefit Oklahoma, Claunch said.

“It’s gambling companies and governors that promote these issues,” he said. “It’s not the grassroots movement of the people…. To have the very leaders of your state trying to convince people to lose more and more of their money is just an upside-down thing for government. Government transitions from being protector and provider to being the very predator of its own people.”

Another decisive factor in the push to expand gambling in Oklahoma was the massive amount of money gaming supporters were able to raise, Claunch said.

Oklahomans defeated the lottery in 1994 and voted down casinos at racetracks in 1998 despite limited funds for campaigning against the measures. But $400,000 raised by gaming opponents was not enough to combat the $6 million raised to support the gaming measures this year, Claunch said.

“It’s very difficult with the weight of money they were able to obtain from the Indian tribes and the out-of-state gambling companies,” he said. “It was just insurmountable…. We have never had such a great disparity as we did this time.”

Despite passage of the lottery and gaming measures, Claunch said he is encouraged by the efforts of Oklahoma Baptists to protect their state from the harmful effects of gambling.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “The Southern Baptist Convention, though, was absolutely terrific in their support and contribution from the public relations standpoint.”