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Okla. voters turn down casinos by 2-1 margin

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–“Don’t roll the dice,” Oklahomans said Feb. 10 as they voted 2-1 against legalizing casinos.
Despite fears from state educators, votes on school funding millages were not affected by the heavy “no” tally against casinos. Most millages, which provide most of the funding for public schools in Oklahoma, also passed by a 2-1 margin.
The final tally on casinos was 304,349 against and 139,024 for. The 443,373 votes represent about 22 percent of the state’s registered voters.
In 1994, 697,000 Oklahomans voted against a state lottery.
If this year’s measure had passed, it would have allowed casinos in four locations: Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Sallisaw (far eastern Oklahoma) and Love County (far southern Oklahoma).
The proposal said the casinos would be heavily regulated, and that the four casinos would be the only ones allowed the first five years.
Opponents, though, noted that under the Federal Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act, if Oklahoma approved casinos or a lottery it would be required to negotiate new compacts with Indian tribes concerning casinos. Under the new compacts, the state could no longer prohibit casinos on Indian land and in fact could do very little to regulate them at all.
The state would receive no revenue for casinos on Indian lands.
State Rep. Forrest Claunch, who led the fight against casinos and against a state lottery in 1994, said he was pleased with the results. “A 69-31 percent vote is a tremendous statement,” said Claunch, leader of Oklahomans Against Casinos. “It is a statement Oklahoma made; this was not a massive media campaign. It was just conservative Christians standing up and saying, ‘We don’t want this.’
“Oklahomans want to build the state on sound moral principles and sound economics,” he said. “People knew the issues and didn’t falter.”
Casino proponents had promised revenues from casinos would help education. That is the same argument used in Oklahoma to end prohibition in 1959 and to approve pari-mutuel betting in 198
2. When liquor-by-the-drink was approved in 198
4, drink revenues were to lower real-estate and business taxes. But in 1990 Oklahoma passed the biggest tax in state history for education.
State educators had not wanted the casino vote on the same ballot as the annual millage election. Days before the vote, they raised concerns that people voting against casinos would also turn down millages.
Claunch said that was a non-issue, noting, “The educators ought to stand up and say, ‘We were wrong. We’ve got informed voters.'”
Including the campaign against the lottery, Claunch has been working against gambling in Oklahoma for 45 months. In between, he also was elected to his first public office.
He said he hopes the issue is dead for a while. “I would certainly like a little time off,” he said. “I’d not like to see another ‘sin’ issue for awhile.”
The Edward DeBartolo Corp., which owns Remington Park racetrack in Oklahoma City, had spent more than $1 million on preliminary work for casinos before it backed out in May 1996.
Better Opportunities for Oklahoma Students and Taxpayers (BOOST), a Tulsa group pushing for casinos, reported spending $516,165.45 in the campaign, of which $515,502.95 came from DeBartolo. Most of that was paid to people circulating petitions.
By contrast, Oklahomans Against Casinos only spent around $130,000 in the 32-month campaign.
“There is a very good chance that, for the amount of money spent, there has never been a campaign so effective in opposing an issue,” Claunch said. “This was just a grassroots constituency that voted.”
State Baptist leaders were among vocal casino opponents; the Baptist Messenger, for example, ran editorials and advertisements against the proposal.
Gov. Frank Keating, who turned 54 the day of the election, said the vote was “a wonderful birthday present.”
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “The people of Oklahoma are able to distinguish between what is good for Oklahoma and what is not.
“We put everything on the same ballot and saved the state some money. Now we can put all this behind us.
“This says to the nation that we are going to focus on the things that really matter: education and building our economy,” he said.
“This vote is no surprise,” he added. “Oklahomans are sensible and intelligent people.”
Oklahoma already has pari-mutuel racetracks and bingo halls; “beyond that, we don’t want to go,” Keating said. “We need to focus on what to do right now to grow the Oklahoma economy.”
Barrett Duke, who addresses gambling issues for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, observed, “The vote in Oklahoma against the expansion of legalized gambling reveals once again that the majority of the citizens of the United States do not want legalized gambling in their communities. This vote in Oklahoma reinforces a recent poll taken in Louisiana that revealed that only 16 percent of the people in that state believe that legalized gambling has had a positive impact on the state. Only a year ago 30 percent had said legalized gambling had a positive impact on the state.
“As Americans become more aware of the vicious, merciless destruction that gambling wreaks in people’s lives, they are doing what they know is right,” Duke said. “They are voting for the health of their communities and for the future of their own children.
“Soon we will begin to see grassroots efforts all over this country to end legalized gambling. When that happens, and only when that happens, we will finally see the beginning of the end of this madness which is destroying millions of lives,” Duke said.

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  • Dave Parker