For more than a decade, Kentucky legislators have debated the idea of expanding gambling in the state beyond the lottery and horseracing tracks they already have. The measure, defeated Thursday (Feb. 23) by a vote of 21-16, would have placed the issue on the ballot in November.
The day after the bill's defeat, Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort and preaching professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, prayed Psalm 118 in Hebrew as an invocation in the Senate. In English, the Psalm begins, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever."
York led Kentucky Baptists' effort in stopping expanded gambling, stirring controversy in January by leading a joint session of the legislature in a prayer for God to defeat the governor's chief legislative proposal.
"Help us to admit that we cannot truly love our neighbor as ourselves and then scheme to get his money by enticing him with vain hope," York prayed.
York, a former president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, also organized a rally at the state capitol Feb. 21 in which about 250 pastors and concerned citizens from various denominations spoke out against gambling.
"It's the one issue that unites all churches across the theological spectrum. Liberals, moderates, conservatives and fundamentalists all know that this is bad for Kentucky families, that it destroys the poor and that it will be our churches that have to be the safety net when some member of the family gambles away the milk money," York said.
Adam Greenway, president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and assistant professor of evangelism at Southern Seminary, said gambling is a wrong way for states to generate revenue.
"Given our first conviction to biblical authority and doing what is right in the eyes of God, it is our belief that the state has the mandate to promote the general welfare, not exploit people," Greenway said. "We believe with gambling that the state is failing in this aspect in how it chooses to fund state government but also the tragic consequence of encouraging gamblers in order to keep the revenue stream coming in."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, addressed the issue of gambling in a couple of blog posts at albertmohler.com.
"The Bible is clear on this issue. The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God's Word," Mohler wrote Feb. 20. "The basic impulse behind gambling is greed -- a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. Greed, covetousness, and avarice are repeatedly addressed by Scripture -- always presented as a sin against God, and often accompanied by a graphic warning of the destruction which is greed's result. The burning desire for earthly riches leads to frustration and spiritual death."
Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary, also highlighted the injustice of gambling.
"Gambling is a social justice issue that defines how it is that we love our neighbors and uphold the common good.... Gambling is a form of economic predation," Moore wrote at russellmoore.com Feb. 15.
"Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. It benefits multinational corporations while oppressing the lower classes with illusory promises of wealth, and with (typically) low-wage, transitory jobs that simultaneously destroy every other economic engine of a local community," Moore wrote.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention alerted its roughly 2,400 churches throughout the state to the importance of the issue. Paul Chitwood, the KBC's executive director, said before the vote he was "very hopeful that we'll be seeing an overwhelming response from Kentucky Baptists on this issue. There are 750,000 Kentucky Baptists. That's enough to change everything."
Chitwood said the KBC got involved in the fight against expanded gambling "because we understood the consequences for our state, for our government, for our children. We've been called to be salt and light. What we do is out of love, hopefully with the spirit of love, and we'll speak the truth in love. And we're here to speak the truth about gambling in Kentucky."
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who campaigned on expanded gambling in 2007, was met with stiff opposition by the state Senate in his first-term attempts to expand gambling. He won re-election handily in 2011 and entered the 2012 General Assembly hoping to pass expanded gambling with his re-election momentum and a weakened Senate president in David Williams, his opponent in the gubernatorial election.
Once the bill was voted down in the Senate, state leaders seemed convinced the gambling effort was over.
"I think it's probably dead for this session," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, said, adding, "It got a full and fair hearing, and now it's time to move on."
The Democrat-controlled House has passed such legislation in previous years but it was never heard in the Senate. Now that the Republican-controlled Senate has voted it down, the House leader didn't expect to take it up again.
To pass a constitutional amendment to expand gambling in Kentucky, 23 votes were needed in the Senate. Six Republicans joined 10 Democrats in voting for the bill, and four Democrats voted against it. One senator, a Democrat, was absent during the vote.
Williams, the Senate president, said, "We need to go on. People need to lay this issue down."
Erin Roach with reporting by Andrew Walker of The Family Foundation in Kentucky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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