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October 26, 2002
Column #1104

Baptists & Methodists Fight Gambling 

     Grassroots Baptists and Methodists in Tennessee feel like David challenging Goliath as they fight a proposed state lottery in one of the few states without one. Politicians argued that residents ought to be able to gamble in their own state, rather than travel to Mississippi casinos. A few weeks ago, polls showed a 70-30 margin in favor of the seemingly painless way to raise taxes for a noble cause - giving scholarships to students attending state colleges. 

     However, that was before the Tennessee Baptist Convention distributed four weekly church bulletin inserts to its 2,900 congregations, a stunning total of 3.2 million of them.

     Polls have narrowed to a 56-44 margin. 

     What could those Baptists church inserts say to change so many minds?

Insert 1: "The Lottery is Bad for Tennessee's Economy. Rather than pump money into the economy, lotteries actually draw money out, as people buy tickets with money they otherwise might have spent at existing businesses...Since 1990, per capita taxes in lottery states have risen more than three times as fast as in non-lottery states.

     "States get only about a third of all lottery revenues. Thus, for Tennessee to get the projected $200 million in lottery money, Tennessee businesses will have to forego $600 million in sales revenue and the state will lose out on $42 million of sales tax revenue.

Insert 2: "The Lottery Takes Advantage of the Poor. Lotteries are a regressive tax that targets the poorest citizens. Do we really want Tennessee preying on our poorest and most vulnerable citizens? ...An ad in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood read: "This could be your ticket out." The reality is that the odds of winning are slim to none. 

"Two Duke University researchers call state lotteries "the most regressive tax we know." They found that lottery players with incomes below $10,000 spend more than any other income group on the lottery, an estimated $597 per year. In contrast, players with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 only spend $225." Or nothing.

Insert 3: "Lottery Gambling Puts Children At Risk," is an insert with a smiling photo of a little girl, next to this text: "According to the Georgia Department of Human Services, as many as 17,700 teens develop severe problems with gambling as a result of the lottery. In Connecticut, the Council on Problem Gambling discovered that one out of ten high school students was a compulsive gambler. The lottery was among the most popular forms of gambling for kids.

"Do we want Tennessee offering some kids a college scholarship with one hand, but with the other creating for thousands of others a lifetime of pain and heartache? In Massachusetts, the Attorney General's office found that 80% of minors had played the lottery."

Insert 4: "The Lottery Does Little For Education." David Dockery, President of Union University, says, "Various studies have shown that spending on education actually declines after states adopt a lottery. Lottery monies frequently replace current educational funding as legislators shift existing educational funds to other projects." Former gambling addict, John Eades, says, "We say that we want to educate our children, but what we're telling them is that you don't have to work or have an education. You can win the lottery and be on the easy street the rest of your life."

     The inserts did not quote Scripture. "If a man will not work, he will not eat," Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. In the Ten Commandments themselves, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, his field...or anything that is thy neighbor's."

     Rev. John Eades, quoted above, used to work with alcohol- and drug-addicted people. But he began buying lottery tickets and then started casino gambling: "I loved it. Within three months, I was addicted. It destroyed my life in all areas: financially, economically, spiritually, socially. I loved it more than my wife, more than God." He lost $300,000 and would have committed suicide with a gun had not his wife sold it to pay debts. 

     However, he stopped gambling Nov. 24, 1996. Today he is a United Methodist pastor.

     My hero in this fight is another United Methodist pastor, Rev. Tom Grey who has spent 220 days on the road this year, fighting gambling by mobilizing church people. His record is astonishing. In eight states, attempts to put slot machines at racetracks failed: New Hampshire, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio, Maryland, New York. Seven more said no to more casinos: Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, and Indiana. Four others rejected lotteries: Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Dakota and North Carolina. 

     God's people can fight this plague and win!

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