Local News

Religious Leaders Oppose Statewide Lottery

Posted June 24, 2002

— Statewide religious leaders met Monday, saying state-sponsored gambling preys on the poor. Many do not buy Gov. Mike Easley's argument that the state needs a lottery to raise $300 million for education. They issued a warning to lawmakers who do.

Religious leaders from 12 Christian faiths are uniting in their battle against a state lottery, pointing to the success of Christian voters who have defeated the lottery in other states.

"When Alabama held a referendum on the lottery in 1999, it was the church that helped turn the tide and defeat the lottery by a 54-46 margin," said Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League.

The Speaker of the State House says he will bring a lottery bill to a vote within the next two weeks. The bill would let voters decide the lottery issue at the polls in November.

Polls show 60 percent of North Carolinians favor a lottery. State leaders are not certain they could defeat a referendum, but they can defeat lawmakers who let it get that far.

"Many lawmakers that supported the lottery in 1999 have recently been defeated in this year's primaries," Creech said.

Dr. James Royston leads 1.2 million members of the Baptist State Convention, whose ministers recently voted to denounce the lottery from their pulpits. It is likely lawmakers will also be paying attention.

"The closer and more likely a referendum is, the more engaged you will see us become," he said.

"I think when you see a diverse group of so many people across the state, you're going to see a groundswell," said Rep. Russell Capps, R-Wake.

A spokesman for the governor's office said they encourage a healthy debate, but are confident the majority of voters favor a lottery.

Despite the religious debate, lotteries are not new in the Bible belt. Before taxation, southern states used the lottery to build bridges, roads and schools.

There are other historical uses of the lottery, including George Washington using it to fund the Revolutionary War. Up until the Civil War, lottery proceeds helped build 200 churches and 50 colleges, including Harvard and Yale.

While recent history does not bode well for the lottery, the latest WRAL-Elon University poll taken back in April showed 68 percent of voters support the lottery in North Carolina.


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