Sin and money: In the Deep South, why one state seems more willing to embrace gambling

Sin and money: In the Deep South, why one state seems more willing to embrace gambling

In my time with The Associated Press in Nashville, Tenn., I spent months covering the 2002 battle over a proposed state lottery.

Before Tennessee voters went to the polls that November, I wrote a story explaining why religious opponents had avoided portraying the referendum as a "moral issue."

From that story, which ran on the national political wire:

“To win, we could not make it a preacher issue,” said the Rev. Paul Durham, a Southern Baptist pastor and treasurer for the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance. “We had to make it a truth issue.”

The campaign’s lack of Bible thumping reflects political and theological realities in the battle over lifting a constitutional ban on a lottery. Polls have consistently shown most Tennesseans – those in the pews and otherwise – see no inherent evil in the concept of a lottery.

“Since 47 states have gambling, I would have to think God’s not really against it,” said state Sen. Steve Cohen, a Democrat and the state’s chief lottery proponent.

As it turned out, the lottery proposal passed easily — winning support from 58 percent of the nearly 1.6 million Tennesseans who voted.

I was reminded of the Volunteer State's experience when I read a New York Times piece Sunday making the case that "Alabama's Longtime Hostility to Gambling Shows Signs of Fading." Among those pushing for a lottery vote: both major-party gubernatorial candidates nominated last week.

The Times' lede:

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Roll the 'why?' dice: Waiting, waiting to learn why the Las Vegas gunman did what he did

Roll the 'why?' dice: Waiting, waiting to learn why the Las Vegas gunman did what he did

Right now, I am doing what I assume many of you are doing, especially GetReligion readers who work in news media.

I am reading everything that I can about 64-year-old Stephen Paddock and the massacre in Las Vegas and I'm waiting for the shoe to drop. It's the "why?" shoe, as in "who, what, when, where, why and how?"

As is so often the case, in this sinful and fallen world, the next shoe could have something to do with religion. Islamic State leaders have already done what they do and, in this case, that statement looks even more cynical and senseless than usual. A CBS story noted:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed ... that the man who opened fire on concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing at least 50 people, was acting on behalf of the group, but offered no evidence. ...
The statement offered no proof of a link with Paddock, nor did it identify him by name.

The next shoe to drop could be political, at which point the political content will take on cultural and perhaps even religious content. Why? Because that's the way things work in culture-wars America.

When you heard that the slaughter was in Vegas, that caused you to ponder one possible set of motives for a shooter. When you heard that the victims were at a country-music show, that triggered another set of assumptions, at least about the people being shot. That appears to have been the case for one lawyer linked to CBS -- Hayley Geftman-Gold (but not tied to the newsroom). In an update, CBS fired her.

“If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that Repugs will ever do the right thing,” wrote Geftman-Gold on Facebook. ... “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country musica fans often are Republican gun toters.”

From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, was Paddock shooting at conservatives? Republicans? He was a gambler, apparently. Had things gone wrong and he was simply shooting at human symbols of Las Vegas? People who stood for America, period? Why?

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Bible Belt jackpot: Might Alabama lose its religion and approve a state lottery?

Bible Belt jackpot: Might Alabama lose its religion and approve a state lottery?

For now, Alabama remains one of six states without a lottery, according to an ABC News report.

But could that soon change?

As early as the Nov. 8 general election, voters in that Bible Belt state may be asked to approve a lottery to help fund state government and education.

Is there a potential religion angle here? 

You think?

Fortunately for news consumers, veteran Godbeat pro Greg Garrison, who writes for the Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group, already is on top of the story.

Garrison wrote last week:

A Jefferson County ministry group representing dozens of area clergy has issued a statement opposing a state lottery in Alabama.
The Gatekeepers Association of Alabama, a group of about 25 pastors that has met monthly for the past year and has included as many as 41 clergy, said a lottery runs counter to biblical principles.
 "We serve one another; we don't rob another," said the Rev. Jim Lowe, senior pastor of Guiding Light Church in Birmingham. "It's blatantly obvious that countless Alabama families would have a stumbling block placed before them if a lottery passes."
The group quoted Romans 14:13-19, in which the Apostle Paul urges Christians to "make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

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Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

Faith and gambling: Story exploring one city's 'false god with a small g' hits the jackpot

A few years, I covered a meeting of preachers in Las Vegas and wrote a story titled "Saving Sin City." 

In reporting that piece, I was fascinated by how local church leaders and members approached the all-encompassing gambling industry in their home city.

I was reminded of that story when I read a front-page Philadelphia Inquirer report this week on clergy members supporting casino workers about to lose their jobs in Atlantic City, N.J. 

The newsy lede:

ATLANTIC CITY — When gambling was being proposed for Atlantic City 38 years ago, most religious denominations opposed casinos. They viewed gambling as a vice that could destroy families and communities.
Now, many of the same churches are standing firmly by the casino workers, a number of whom fill their pews on Sundays, who are expected to lose their jobs in massive numbers, starting Labor Day weekend with the closure of the Showboat and Revel.
Many houses of worship are offering counseling for the affected workers, increased food pantry hours, or just someone to pray with.
"There are going to be a lot of people hurting," said John R. Schol, bishop of the United Methodist Church Greater New Jersey Conference, based in Ocean Township, which has 572 member churches. "No matter what industry, we want to be there to support them."

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Jackpot! Godbeat pro shows her winning hand

If you’re in a hurry, there’s no need to finish the rest of this post.

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Australian Anglican Indulgences

An Australian bishop’s veto of a gaming industry proposal to donate funds to a church social service agency to hire additional gambling addiction counselors has been met with incredulity by the Sunday Telegraph.

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