News Articles

Video poker among problems stirring W.Va. Baptists to mobilize churches

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (BP)–The onslaught of video poker in West Virginia is among the issues fueling Baptist plans to form a Christian life committee.

The committee will be charged with “devising a strategy to mobilize Southern Baptist churches on ethics issues,” said Jere Phillips, executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.

The committee will be proposed to messengers attending the November annual meeting of the state convention.

Phillips said he expects the committee to be very involved in educating churches about pending legislation and ethical issues, including gambling.

“It’s a big issue in our state,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are huge investments in the gambling industry throughout West Virginia and they have a strong influence on the politics here.”

Phillips said he is especially concerned about the video poker industry. Several other states also are dealing with the issue of video poker, including North Carolina. “Right now, it’s a gray area under West Virginia law. Our position is the state should enforce the current law which says the machines are illegal,” Phillips said. “Some in the legislature want to legalize the machines and tax them.”

Currently, West Virginia does not enforce laws against video poker and the machines also are untaxed.

“We’ve been battling this gambling issue for quite some time,” Phillips added. For many years, the historic Greenbriar Hotel had tried to convince the state legislature to approve a casino in the basement of the hotel.

Three years ago, Phillips spoke on the floor of the House of Delegates to denounce the plan. Last year, however, lobbyists were successful in their efforts and lawmakers granted Greenbriar their wish in a local options bill.

The bill was so specific that it required the hotel to have a five-star rating to operate the casino, Phillips noted. Ironically, shortly after the bill passed, the hotel, for the first time in history, lost its coveted five-star rating.

“Even if it would have gone for a local vote, I think the churches in the county would have voted it down,” Phillips said.

And while he said the gambling issue is a concern, Phillips applauded the House of Delegates’ 96-3 vote March 11 to ban homosexual marriages and prohibit the state from recognizing such marriages performed in other states. The ban now awaits the signature of Gov. Cecil Underwood, who had initiated the measure.

The bill will insert the phrase, “Marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man,” onto all West Virginia marriage license applications.

“We were very heartened by the action of the legislature in affirming marriage,” Phillips said. “We are a very conservative state in that respect.”

On March 7, Californians overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that also affirmed marriage between a man and a woman.

In Vermont, meanwhile, the legislature continues deliberations over recognition of same-sex unions, despite opposition voiced at numerous village meetings March 7.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes