Just Saying No to Gambling

Citizens in Alabama and South Carolina have shown it's possible for states to resist gambling. At a time when legalized gaming has become a nearly irresistible revenue lure, such examples are needed.

Alabamians voted last week to stay in the minority of states that don't have official lotteries. That outcome was hardly predictable, since the state's governor, elected just last year, has made a lottery his top priority.

Gov. Donald Seigelman's goals are admirable. He wants to start a pre-kindergarten program in the state, install computers in schools, and offer college scholarships. But his desired revenue source - a numbers game that lets the state siphon dollars away from its people, disproportionately the poor - is wrong.

In South Carolina, the state high court upheld the legislature's ban on video poker, while striking down a portion of the same law that called for a November referendum on the subject. Putting the issue to the voters, said the court, wrongly delegated legislative authority. Ironically, a gambling company's challenge to the referendum - spurred by concerns the voters would back the ban - triggered the ruling. Behind the law lies growing public disgust with the poker machines, which blanket the state.

South Carolinians will, however, have another chance to vote next year - on whether to have a lottery.

In both states, ministers and congregations spearheaded the antigambling campaigns. They emphasized the moral slide inherent in state-run, or state-authorized gaming.

Victimization of the poor was a major concern. That concern, in Alabama especially, should now translate into vigorous efforts to accomplish the governor's goal through more defensible means - reordering budget priorities, and possibly raising some taxes.

Yes, these states are turning their backs on big revenue gains - up to $300 million a year in South Carolina from taxes on video poker. But a majority of their citizens have come to realize that the losses are huge when the public treasury depends on wasteful, often addictive, behavior.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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