WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (BP)–The Navajo nation, America’s largest Indian reservation, voted down a proposal to permit casino gambling in early November for the second time in three years.
In Ledyard, Conn., however, the Mashantucket Pequots operate Foxwoods, the biggest casino in the Western Hemisphere, making more than $1 million a day even during slow periods.
In Worley, Idaho, the Cour d’Alene tribe operates an Internet gambling site and says it plans to turn 10 percent of the profits over to tribes that do not have gambling facilities.
These examples illustrate the variety of attitudes toward gambling among Indians. Although such operations have been a popular way for tribes to raise revenue for economic development, anti-gambling forces see signs that the Navajo vote may indicate some Indians are hesitant to join the bandwagon because of the social and moral problems associated with the pastime.
Tom Grey, the United Methodist minister who heads the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, noted that the Hopis have also voted against casino gambling and the Senecas elected an anti-gambling faction to lead the tribe last year. “When gambling initiatives are put to the people, we tend to see that they are rejected,” Grey said. “But whenever they come through what I call the back room, where the gambling promoters can use their money or muscle, gambling is escorted into our communities, not welcomed in by the people.”
One of the leading opponents of the gambling initiative among the Navajos, Richard Kontz, is a financial analyst with the tribe’s division of economic development in Window Rock, Ariz., which was actively promoting the proposal. The Navajo Nation includes portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Kontz, a member of Gallup (N.M.) Baptist Church, said, “I’m a Christian. I felt led to do something to speak out against gambling, that it was morally wrong and that it is not a good thing for economic development.”
On his own time and with his own money, Kontz took out ads and wrote letters to newspapers and was interviewed on TV and radio programs. Kontz cited studies that have found a relationship between large-scale gambling and addiction, crime and poverty. As an alternative means of economic development, he suggested that his employer help the approximately 500 small businesses operating on the 200,000-population Navajo Nation to create 10 new jobs each, resulting in a total of 5,000.
Kontz said he tried to persuade churches to join the campaign and found the greatest response among the Assemblies of God and Christian Reformed churches. “The Baptist community didn’t respond that well,” he said.
Steve Bass, executive director of the Arizona Baptist Convention, said the convention took no action on the referendum among the Navajos. “Our heartbeat is to try to start 600 new churches,” he said. “We very rarely pass resolutions or take action of a political nature.”
Estimates vary of how many of the 557 federally recognized tribes have casinos. PBS’s “Frontline” gave a figure of 150 in May; Grey of the anti-gambling coalition estimates between 170 and 185; and Mary H. Cooper of CQ (Congressional Quarterly) Researcher estimates about 200.
Large-scale gambling on tribal lands began in the late 1970s, when tribes in Florida and California began raising revenues by operating bingo games offering larger prizes than those allowed under state law.
To regulate such activities, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. The law establishes three categories of gambling on Indian lands: 1) Class I, social or traditional and cultural forms, conducted for minimal prizes or in connection with ceremonies or celebrations; 2) Class II, bingo and related games and “non-banking” card games; and 3) Class III, all other gambling, including casinos. The law requires tribes to use casino revenues to promote economic development, self- sufficiency and strong tribal government.
In March 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the law that permitted tribes to sue states that failed to negotiate “in good faith” with tribes intent on setting up casinos. The law still stipulates, however, that tribes may operate a form of gambling only in states that already permit it.
This restriction has led to two lawsuits brought by Wisconsin and Missouri against the Cour d’Alene, saying the tribe’s Internet lottery site violates their state laws against gambling. However, leaders of the tribe contend the games are conducted on their reservation, because a computer server that operates the site is located there.
Guy Clark, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling in Albuquerque, said the Navajo vote was “a great victory” because the tribal council “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to educate the members about the glories of casinos.” But he said he doesn’t think this second “no” vote necessarily closes the matter.
“Generally the gambling industry keeps hitting you and hitting you and hitting you until they win,” Clark said. “I suspect they’ll come back. I think we’ll get a couple of years’ break, but I don’t think they’ve given up by a long ways.”
But Grey sees a backlash that has led 35 states to say no to gambling expansion since 1994, while five have approved new gambling since that time. He believes churches can and should do more in the fight.
“Isn’t it ironic that our Christian community has been overrun by gambling,” the United Methodist minister said. “Our moral position on gambling has collapsed, and we’ve only won when we’ve based it on social policy. … I don’t see bishops and denominations leading the charge.”
–30– Turner is religion writer for The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Ind. 12/02/97 Baptists unite in region where William Carey worked
WASHINGTON (BP)–Three Baptist groups have reunited in Bengal, India, after 25 years of fighting in the region noted for the work of pioneer missionary William Carey more than 200 years ago.
In a symbolic and literal act, Bengal Baptist leaders have submitted their resignations and agreed to elections next March for new leaders for the newly formed Bengal Baptist Union, according to a report by the Baptist World Alliance.
Their reconciliation was celebrated in a service attended by more than 500 Baptists — many of whom traveled all night by bus — Nov. 8 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta, featuring a choir of youth from the former factions.
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, congratulated the group on behalf of the alliance’s 191 member bodies around the world.
“We rejoice with you in the magnificent way in which the Holy Spirit has moved to bring it together,” Lotz said. He said the Baptist family is praying that the unity of Bengal Baptists “will be an impetus to further evangelize your great city and country.”
Lotz had urged reconciliation among the divided Baptists in remarks four years ago during 200th anniversary celebrations in Calcutta of the arrival of Carey to Bengal.
The clashes in Bengal, ironically, were not theological, but over property which led to court cases before secular judges and leadership conflicts which seemed insurmountable between two Bengal Baptist unions started by Carey and affiliated to the British Missionary Society, and an offshoot independent group from both of these, the Bengal Baptist Fellowship.
After 10 meetings of an “Ad-Hoc Reconciliation Committee” formed after the Carey celebrations and countless other meetings with the individual groups, the final process for reconciliation began a year ago in Calcutta. Committee chairman J.H. Mohanty said at the time, “Unless we come together, we are not fit to work.”
–30– 12/02/97 La. executive board chair: Lawsuit ‘can be settled’
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–A lawsuit filed last spring by four Louisiana College professors against members of Louisiana Baptists Speaking the Truth in Love conservative organization “can be settled,” John Alley, chairman of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s executive board, said during the board’s Nov. 11 meeting in Alexandria.
“We just need to get rid of some of the legal fees that have already been agreed upon,” Alley, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Alexandria, told the board.
Then urging board members to contribute to the “LC Legal Fund,” he said, “I don’t like that name but we’ve got to call it something.” He told the board $9,100 has been raised of the $41,000 needed to pay the legal fees of the professors’ attorneys. The settlement is contingent on the legal fees being paid by a third party.
“I’m going to do my part, not for any side, but for Louisiana Baptists and the cause of Christ and for our school,” Alley said.
Alley said he understands if some are reluctant to give to the effort, but told board members, “if we want it done, we help.”
Linus Carroll of Columbia, in nominating Alley for re- election as chairman, noted his leadership in the effort toward bringing peace to the state convention and in bringing executive board members closer to one another.
Last April, in an 8-0 vote, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision allowing a lawsuit to proceed.
The court ruling rejected a request for review of a ruling by Judge Tom Yeager of the Ninth Judicial District Court in Alexandria in September 1996 that the issues in the case do not fall under the First Amendment, which guarantees religious freedom and has been interpreted to exempt ecclesiastical matters from judicial review.
The professors’ suit challenges what they claim are defamatory and derogatory statements meant to harm their professional and moral reputations. Their lawsuit is a legal statement of grievances that must be proven in court.
Yeager also had denied a motion by the defendants claiming that the professors’ charges in the suit are too vague to allow for preparation of a defense and should be dismissed for that reason. In January, a state court of appeals upheld Yeager on both rulings.
The lawsuit, filed in June 1996 and requesting a jury trial, alleges that letters distributed in 1995 by Leon Hyatt of Pineville and others in a state “conservative resurgency” group were defamatory and derogatory and meant to harm the professional and moral reputations of several Louisiana College professors. The lawsuit was filed by professors Carlton Winbery, Fred Downing, James Heath and Connie Douglas. The college itself is not involved in the lawsuit.
Events related in the suit date back to May 1995, when Hyatt and others organized a group for the purpose of calling the Louisiana Baptist Convention “back to its biblical and moral roots.” Members of the group adopted four goals, two of which related directly to Louisiana College. In the weeks after its organization, the group began distributing a packet of 21 letters citing concerns with the Baptist-affiliated college. The letters cited a range of incidents at the school and named several professors.
Reported by the Louisiana Baptist Message newsjournal