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S.C. churches claim moral victory in fight over video gambling

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court refused to interfere with South Carolina’s upcoming ban of video gambling, dealing what opponents of the ban called an end to video gambling in the state.

The justices rejected an appeal, filed by Joytime Distributors & Amusement Co., a Greenville, S.C.-based corporation that owns 164 video gambling machines. The appeal challenged the way the ban was approved in 1999.

The South Carolina General Assembly passed a law last summer that would ban video gambling unless a majority of voters in a November referendum approved continued payouts from the machines.

The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the referendum, but upheld other parts of the law, effectively ending the state’s $2.8 billion a year industry.

Churches and pro-family groups across the state rejoiced over the Oct. 14 decision that struck down the referendum.

“There is no question that this is a great victory for the faith community in South Carolina,” said Mike Hamlet, senior pastor of North Spartanburg Baptist Church and a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

“The Supreme Court decision did not come as a great surprise to me. I think it was a last ditch effort to try to do something to save the industry. We are very pleased with the decision.”

“The people of South Carolina have stood up and said that we don’t want our state government built on a game of chance and one built on the backs of the poor,” he added.

House Speaker David Wilkins predicted the issue would be dead. “By this time next year, video poker will be nothing more than a memory,” he said.

And with an estimated 3,000 video poker employees about to lose their jobs, state economists said they aren’t worried.

Frank Hefner, an economist at the College of Charleston, told The State newspaper South Carolina’s growing economy should be able to absorb those affected by the industry’s demise.

According to the state Department of Revenue, video poker machines in South Carolina generated $556.4 million in gross receipts in the three months ending Dec. 31, 1999.

However, the widespread presence of video poker means no one area of the state will be hit particularly hard by the $2.8 billion in annual revenue, Hefner said.

Last year, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study that concluded that the $60 million in tax revenues generated by video poker is actually less than one percent of the total state budget and that the job losses in video poker would be small compared with the 300,000 unemployment claims filed every year in South Carolina.

Hamlet agreed with that assessment. “It’s actually going to help the economy because all that money is going to produce real jobs,” Hamlet said. Columbia economist Harry W. Miley, Jr. said the state’s economy has kept “trucking along” in the six months since the decision. “Some people are saying it’s not a big deal, and people are on the other side talking about the devastation it’s causing,” Miley told The State. “I think it will be interesting to see who’s right.”

Hamlet said the death of video gambling gives a boost to opponents of the state lottery. “And anyone who says that churches need to stay in the four walls and not involve themselves in these issues has no understanding of the New Testament,” he said. “Jesus calls us to be salt and light, to make an impact on our culture. In areas where there is a moral principle, not only does a Christian have an opportunity, but a responsibility to take a strong stand.”

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes