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Coalition Breaking

Christian lobbyists in Alabama fight over track betting.

It's been a while since the Christian Coalition of America commanded attention in Washington. But in Alabama, the Christian Coalition name still wields some clout. Eight years ago, the state chapter helped to defeat legislation that would have started a state lottery and allowed gambling at dog racing tracks.

Last August, however, the state chapter complained that the national organization had shifted to the Left. Alabama leaders split from the group and adopted a new name: Christian Action Alabama (CAA). This year, they faced off against an unusual opponent, the new Christian Coalition of Alabama (CCA), over an old issue—gambling.

A bill that came before the Alabama House of Representatives in March would have allowed bingo at two more dog racing tracks, but it would have outlawed all other electronic sweepstakes games. Betting on races at the state's four dog tracks is allowed, and two tracks offer electronic bingo. Since the Alabama constitution forbids games of chance, excluding charitable bingo games, former CAA president John Giles argued that the legislation is unnecessary. His side prevailed as House supporters failed to muster a three-fifths majority.

But Randy Brinson, appointed last December as president of the CCA, supported the bill. He argued that expanding betting at two more tracks would actually help Christians fight gambling. Without consistent legislation, Brinson said, Christians could face battles with many sweepstakes machines, rather than a few dog track owners.

"These people are willing to make concessions, willing to be taxed," Brinson said. "It's a give-and-take thing, and it makes a lot of sense."

The policy debate turned ugly when the House bill stalled and Brinson filed suit against Giles, accusing ...

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