Now it's up to the people to defeat the lottery," said Joe Bob Mizzell, Christian ethics director for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, of an Oct. 12 referendum on lottery gambling in the state.
The four-part enabling legislation for a state-sponsored lottery, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Don Siegelman the last week of May, can only become law if voters ratify a constitutional amendment to legalize a lottery in the state.
To defeat a state-sponsored lottery, Alabama Baptists are joining forces with other denominations and anti-gambling organizations to provide education, registration, and even transportation for potential "no" voters.
"It's out of the hands of the legislature now," said Mizzell, who is now working overtime to "get the people out to vote."
To increase awareness of the ills of gambling and inform Alabama Baptists on ways they can get involved in the fight, the State Board of Missions has produced a packet of anti-gambling materials which was sent to every Alabama Baptist church in July.
Included in the packet are "Ten Ways to Defeat Lottery Gambling," a compilation of sermons on gambling, a report of selected financial information from the Georgia lottery, and other anti-gambling materials.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama board, said the purpose of the packet is to "help people better understand the dangers associated with the gambling business." He encouraged all Alabama Baptists to perform their civic and Christian duties by taking a stand against the "moral, ethical, and spiritual concern of gambling."
Mizzell said he hopes the information available in the packet will inspire Alabama Baptists to action.
"[The packet] is our game plan," said Mizzell, who also has sent a copy of the book Tables of Fortune to the directors of each of Alabama's seventy-five Baptist associations. Written by Paul Jones, the book reports alarming statistics and tragic personal accounts to help readers understand how gambling destroys lives, Mizzell said.
Further information about the packet is available from the convention at (334) 288-2460.
Along with the lottery-lambasting literature, the SBOM is also recording 15- to 30-second radio advertisements to permeate the airwaves with the anti-gambling message.
Other religious groups in the anti-gambling effort include Methodists, Nazarenes, Assembly of God, and Mormons.
This alliance is crucial, Mizzell pointed out, because of the discrepancy that exists between the budgets of gambling's foes and its proponents.
"Gambling has unlimited funds – we don't," said Mizzell, who also noted the gap between those for and against gambling is steadily diminishing.
In a recent newspaper article printed in the Tuscaloosa News, Mizzell read that 56 percent are for, 38 percent are against, and 6 percent are undecided on the gambling issue.
Mizzell is careful to point out that just because the SBOM is against the lottery doesn't mean it's against the educational needs of the state.
"We don't want to be mean or ugly-spirited, we just want to get the truth out," said Mizzell, who added a word to the governor: "We're behind you in revamping education."
Along with Mizzell's department, the Alabama Woman's Missionary Union also is working to fight the lottery while advocating education reform through a recently appointed action team.
"The team wants to find a proactive approach to education instead of relying on the lottery," said Beverly Miller, executive director of Alabama WMU.
Stuart Calvert of Boaz was selected as chair and Lenora Pate of Birmingham is co-chair of the WMU action team.
Also in the fight against gambling are the Christian Coalition and the Alabama Citizens Action Program. The Christian Coalition sponsored a statewide voter-registration drive July 4, while Dan Ireland of ALCAP, which has been on the front lines of the anti-gambling crusade from the start, will be conducting meetings across the state to educate leaders of all religious denominations on the dangers of legalized gambling.
A survey of gamblers conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago in collaboration with other researchers found the following:
• There are 2.5 million Americans who are "pathological" gamblers, a disorder codified in 1994 by the American Psychiatric Association, and another 3 million who are problem gamblers.
• People are about twice as likely to be problem or pathological gamblers if a casino is within fifty miles of their home.
• Fifteen million Americans are at risk for having a gambling problem.
• Pathological gamblers account for 15 percent of the money spent on casinos, lotteries and betting.
• About 2.5 million adults are pathological gamblers, and another 3 million adults should be considered problem gamblers.
• Extending these criteria more broadly, 15 million adults are at risk for problem gambling, and about 148 million are low-risk gamblers (about 29 million adults have never gambled).
• Pathological, problem, and at-risk gambling are proportionately higher among black Americans than other ethnic groups, although blacks still comprise a minority of all pathological gamblers.
• Pathological gambling is found proportionately less often among people who are over 65, college graduates, and in households with incomes over $100,000 a year; however, college graduates are more likely to be at-risk gamblers than those at other education levels.
• The availability of a casino within fifty miles (versus fifty to 250 miles) is associated with about double the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers.
• Pathological and problem gamblers are more likely than other gamblers or nongamblers to have been on welfare, declared bankruptcy, and to have been arrested or incarcerated.
• Pathological and problem gamblers, who comprise about 2.5 percent of adults, probably account for 15 percent of casino, lottery, and pari-mutuel receipts.
Associated Press, June 5, 1999