Religious Leaders Oppose, Congregations Back Casino Vote

LOUISVILLE, KY -- Gov. Steve Beshear's bid to bring casino gambling to Kentucky has made for strange pew-fellows, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.

Every major religious advocacy group has united in opposition -- Catholic and Protestant, black and white, conservatives who view gambling as a destructive personal sin and liberals who see an industry that preys on the poor.

Despite religious groups' disagreements on other issues in Frankfort, "this is the one thing that seems to galvanize everyone," said Hershael York, a Frankfort pastor and past president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. "That ought to say something to the political world."

But what it says to the people in the pews is another question. Surveys and other data indicate that while the religious leadership is united against the gambling initiative, lay people's views and practices are mixed, reports the Courier-Journal.

Most frequent churchgoers and evangelical or born-again Christians oppose casino gambling, according to a September 2007 Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll.

But unlike their leaders, more than three-quarters of each of those groups favor putting the casino question on the ballot, the C-J reports.

"If there's any difference between (the religious) leadership and the people in the pews, I would say that's where it is," said Patrick Neely of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which backs expanded gambling.

The Rev. Bruce Williams, a Louisville minister and member of the African-American Fellowship Against Expanded Gambling, said he wasn't fazed by the large numbers of religious people supporting a casino referendum, the newspaper reports.

"It's not so much they're in favor of casino gambling," he said, maintaining that people he's spoken to see it as a choice between "let the people decide" or "let the casinos decide."

Any gambling bill would need approval by three fifths of both houses -- and Senate resistance is stiff -- before going to the voters for approval as a constitutional amendment.

Already, though, gambling has become a part of the lifestyles of many religious people, reports the C-J.

Even among the most devout anti-gambling group -- evangelical or born-again Christians who also go to church almost every week or more -- 35 percent had gambled at least once in the 12 months before the September survey.

They either bought lottery tickets, bet on horse races or went to casinos. That's below the state average of 54 percent.

But evangelicals and born-again Christians who attend worship less often, as well as the non-evangelical or born-again population that does attend worship frequently, gamble at the same rate as the state population as a whole, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright: The Louisville Courier-Journal

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