Gambling: Fighting Chance

Bible-belt churches gear up for lottery battles in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Lotteries are legal in 37 states. But political struggles over lotteries are heating up in two of the remaining Bible-belt holdouts, Tennessee and North Carolina.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, is pushing for a lottery referendum aimed at improving schools with $300 million in new annual revenue. North Carolina is in its second year of budget deficits near $1 billion.

The beginning of lottery sales in adjoining South Carolina in January has given ammunition to lottery backers. They say millions of North Carolina dollars are spent on lotteries in both South Carolina and Virginia. Advocates also cite polls showing that a majority of North Carolina voters would support a referendum.

"We believe the people should have a chance to vote on it," a representative of the North Carolina Association of Educators told Christianity Today.

But lottery opponents, centered in churches and including many other groups, are well organized and vocal. In 2001 they kept lottery proposals bottled up in the legislature. Their umbrella group, Citizens United Against the Lottery, has vowed to do it again. Political observers here believe the referendum proposal is still a few votes short of passage, if it can get to the floor. Easley announced in February that he will push for a lottery when the legislature resumes its work in May.

In Tennessee, where Republican Don Sundquist is governor, only the budget woes are similar. Tennesseans will vote in November on a referendum to change the state constitution, which has banned lotteries since 1834. According to a recent poll by The Knoxville News-Sentinel, 55 percent of voters favor the idea. But polls showed support levels as high as 69 percent in 2000.

Opponents point out that such numbers can ...

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