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Voters defeat casino in Maine, video lottery terminals in Colo.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Voters in Maine and Colorado handed a pair of stinging defeats to pro-gambling interests Nov. 4, soundly rejecting a casino referendum and a plan to place video lottery terminals at five racetracks.

A proposal to allow two Indian tribes to operate a $650 million casino in southern Maine failed by a margin of nearly 2-1, the Portland Press Herald reported. With 85 percent of the vote counted, the totals were 283,387 to 143,222.

In Colorado, voters rejected a plan to install 2,500 video lottery terminals — computerized slot machines — at five dog and horse tracks. That vote was 86,341 against and 22,694 in favor, or 79-21 percent, according to the secretary of state’s office.

In addition, the election of Kentucky’s first Republican governor in 32 years is being interpreted by anti-gambling groups as a defeat for the gambling lobby. Ernie Fletcher won the race by 55-45 percent, the secretary of state’s office reported. Losing candidate Ben Chandler had openly supported gambling expansion.

Fletcher’s win “takes the wind out of the gambling lobby’s sails,” said Howard Beauman, director of the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems. “The way the election went, with Chandler being so openly for [gambling], didn’t seem to carry any weight with the voters.”

However, two gambling referendums also passed Nov. 4:

— Maine voters approved placing slot machines at horseracing tracks, with part of the proceeds to be used to lower prescription drug costs for the elderly and state scholarships. The totals were 226,665 in favor and 197,484 against.

— Residents of Orange County, Indiana, heartily approved establishing a casino between the towns of French Lick and West Baden. The secretary of state’s office reported yes votes of 5,127 to 2,642 against, a margin of 66-34 percent.

Barrett Duke, vice president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the overall results encouraging but a sign the nation is “certainly not out of the woods with this problem.”

However, Duke said a trend may be emerging — the loss of gambling in statewide issues.

“It would appear that we are finally coming to the time when people are becoming aware of the false promises of gambling,” Duke said.

“More and more people now know that legalized gambling does not deliver on its promises of vast economic windfalls. Today practically everyone knows someone whose life has been destroyed by gambling, and the people are saying they don’t want any more of it.”

Unfortunately, when restricted to a small area such as the vote in Indiana, promises of economic vitality for struggling communities are hard to resist, Duke said.

Likening it to a drowning man grasping for something to preserve his life, Duke said Orange County will pay a terrible price for “easy money,” noting such impacts as gambling addiction, increased bankruptcies and higher crime rates.

“I look forward to the day when the people of our great nation finally push gambling back into the darkness that spawned it,” Duke said. “Until then, I know that the church will be there to help those whose lives have been destroyed.”

The casino issue in Maine failed although the state’s share was to be used for the education system and municipal revenue sharing. However, the measure was opposed by the governor and the state’s largest newspaper.

“I’m very proud of the citizens of this state,” said Gov. John Baldacci, the Associated Press reported. “It didn’t matter how much money was being on the airwaves, they were able to read the legislation and make the determination themselves. And it was a bad deal for Maine.”

In a Nov. 2 editorial, the Portland Press Herald pointed out that if the measure passed it would allow a “kiddie casino.” Such things as roulette, wheels of fortune and dice games would be legal for children as long as they were games of chance, editors wrote.

“So what casino proponents are saying is this: Trust us. Sure, the law allows us to have a kiddie casino, but that’s not what we’re planning,” the newspaper said.

“Maine people, however, are not voting on the intentions of the casino developers. They are voting whether to approve a particular law, and this statute would allow for a casino for kids.”

The Press Herald called placing slot machines at tracks equally troublesome, saying it would bring the same social problems associated with casino gambling.

The newspaper also warned it would open the door wider to legalized gambling, making the possibility of a full-fledged casino more likely.

Still, voters approved the measure. Supporter David Nealley, a Bangor city councilman and member of the Maine Coalition for Harness Racing and Agriculture, told the Press Herald, “I think they see that it’s a traditional industry that has great public benefit, not just to Maine and the agriculture industry.”

In Colorado, pro-gaming interests lost to a coalition of churches, two Indian tribes and casino operators in three historic mining communities who reportedly feared competition would harm their businesses.

The trio soundly defeated an attempt to install video lotteries at tracks along the Front Range, the highly populated region of eastern Colorado that spans Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins.

The Denver Post reported that the vote marked the seventh gambling expansion proposal to lose in the past 11 years. The newspaper said the two sides poured more than $9 million into the race.

Supporters backed Amendment 33 because of its promise to generate $50 million, split between tourism and open-space protection — prohibiting commercial development on certain lands.

“This is a devastating defeat for a group of people who spent $6 million to buy their way into our constitution,” opponent and political consultant John Dill told the Post.

Others who took a stand against gambling expansion included Focus on the Family and the Rocky Mountain Family Council, which distributed 2,500 information packets to pastors and church groups across the state. The packets included posters and information urging voters to reject video gambling.

“This is the crack cocaine of gambling,” Jim Chapman, executive director of the family council, told the Post a week before the election. “We see this as taking money out of the pockets of people who really can’t afford to lose their money.

“It causes people to not pay their mortgage, their bills and it creates a lot of more compulsive gamblers in a state that already has gambling problems.”

In central Indiana, backers of a casino in a county plagued with high unemployment were celebrating their landslide victory.

The issue took a higher-than-usual profile for a small town because of groups expected to compete for a casino license. One includes former pro basketball star Larry Bird, a French Lick native and now president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers.

“I’m tickled to death,” former French Lick councilman Jack Carnes told the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal. “This thing is going to roll!”

Located about an hour north of Louisville, the casino will add to several along Kentucky’s borders with Indiana and Illinois.

But Beauman doesn’t expect the Orange County vote to put any pressure on Kentucky’s legislature, which the past two years has rebuffed proposals to put slot machines at the state’s racetracks.

“One of the higher-ups in the senate says he hopes we’ll have a grassroots effort of people calling their representatives so we can hold [gambling expansion] back,” Beauman, a Southern Baptist, said.

Because of pre-election polls showing the Orange County casino passing by a wide margin, the results didn’t surprise Beauman.

But he doubts the central Indiana community will receive the major benefits supporters expect.

“It’s not helped their economy,” Beauman said of riverboat casinos already operating. “It’s destroyed a lot of little towns. Almost every business in Lawrenceburg [near Cincinnati] has closed up. They wanted to tax the casino to get non-interest loans for businesses. But it’s not capital they need, it’s customers.”

In Cleveland Heights, Ohio, voters by a margin of 55-45 percent passed a domestic partner registry for homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexuals. Registered partners will receive a document they can use in hospitals when seeking to visit their partner. While other cities have similar registries, it is the first time a registry has been adopted by voters, according to USA Today. The move is largely symbolic but is seen as a stepping stone by homosexual activists, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported.

In Mississippi, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour of Yazoo City ousted incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove by an unofficial 53 percent-45 percent tally. Barbour, a Presbyterian making only his second run for public office, held on to an early lead over Musgrove, a member of First Baptist Church in Jackson, and a former deacon at First Baptist Church in his hometown of Batesville.

Barbour will be the second Republican governor in Mississippi since the Civil War, following Kirk Fordice who served two terms as governor immediately prior to Musgrove’s election in 1999.

Republicans also won three of six down-ballot statewide races. Incumbent Republican Lt. Governor Amy Tuck of Maben, who switched from the Democratic Party in the middle of her current term, garnered 61 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals, against Barbara Blackmon, a state senator from Canton. Political newcomer and financial advisor Tate Reeves defeated Democrat Gary Anderson, a former state fiscal officer, in the state treasurer’s race, while incumbent Republican Phil Bryant easily won re-election as state auditor.
William H. Perkins Jr. contributed to this article. Perkins is editor of The Baptist Record, the newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.

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  • Ken Walker