Conference leaders ask members to vote against gambling this election (Oct. 29, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference leaders ask members to vote against gambling this election

Oct. 29, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0187}

n  Anti-gambling chairman says complacency about gambling is part of issue.

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham**

WINTER PARK — The Rev. Lusby Burruss hopes early voters like these, who waited more than two hours at the public library here, will vote against the statewide ballot's Amendment 4 and it's efforts to put slot machines in various locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. As the conference's anti-gambling chair, Burruss spearheaded efforts to encourage Florida United Methodists to vote against the amendment. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #04-0105.

ORLANDO — The decision to expand gambling in Florida is once again facing voters, and Florida Conference leaders are urging United Methodists across the state to defeat a constitutional amendment on slot machines that is included on the statewide ballot this election.

Amendment 4 asks voters to consider placing slot machines at licensed horse and greyhound racing tracks and jai alais in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. It authorizes each county to hold a referendum that asks voters to decide whether or not to allow slot machines at the sites. If the amendment passes and the counties hold the referendum, but a majority of voters do not approve it, then slot machines cannot be installed and the issue can't be placed on another referendum for at least two years.

If slot machines are approved, the amendment says the Florida State Legislature may tax revenues from the machines and use those taxes to fund Florida's public schools.

Proponents of the amendment say it will provide much needed resources for education, but the Rev. Lusby Burruss, chairman of the conference's anti-gambling task force, questions the true benefit to schools. He says the same promise was made when the state lottery was up for vote in 1986 and it has "never lived up to what it was billed for." He said nothing in Amendment 4 guarantees direct benefit to Florida's schools. "It's up to the Legislature to decide what's gained from it," he said.

Burruss concedes lottery money has been given to schools and funded scholarships, but said the "amendment never did explicitly limit the funds to education, although the general public was sold on the passage, understanding it was for education."

For every dollar of revenue generated by the Florida Lottery 50 cents goes to winners, and "39 cents of online sales and a variable rate from Scratch-Off games go to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund ," according to the Florida Lottery's Web site. The remaining 11 cents goes to lottery retailers, ticket vendors, advertising and lottery operations. The Web site reports a little more than $1 billion was transferred to the EETF during the 2002/2003 fiscal year.

Burruss said the real question isn't who wins, but who loses. "When you gamble, someone's gonna' win and someone's gonna' lose...and this is where the church comes in and says it's not right."

According to the United Methodist Social Principles [163-G], "The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government."

ORLANDO — Central Florida voters waited an average of an hour and a half to vote early at the public library here. The Rev. Lusby Burruss hopes they and those who head to the polls Nov. 2 will heed the conference's warnings about the dangers of gambling by voting against consitutional Amendment 4. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #04-0106.

Burruss says gambling increases crime and addiction, contributes to the breakup of families, corrupts politics and negatively impacts a community's economy. He points to reports included on the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling Web site that show gambling's economic and social costs. One summarizes comments made by Professor Earl L. Grinols of the University of Illinois' department of economics to the U.S. Senate and House finance committees in April last year.

The reports says Grinols has been studying the effects of gambling since 1990 and, from his research, concluded 7.9 percent of total crime [based on FBI Index I], 7.7 percent of property crime and 10.3 percent  of violent crime in counties is due to gambling. He adds, "For an average county with 100,000 population this implies 772 more larcenies, 357 more burglaries, 331 more auto thefts, 12 more rapes, 68 more robberies, and 112 more aggravated assaults."

Burruss says it's those who can least afford to gamble that do and in the churches he has served he's seen "families ruined by gambling." Burruss has been a pastor in the Florida Conference since 1989 and is currently appointed to Christ United Methodist Church in Lakeland.

Grinols' report adds that "30 percent to 50 percent of revenues derive from problem and pathological gamblers" and the cost to deal with issues resulting from pathological gambling is about $10,100 per year per gambler.

Burruss said his concern is the lack of advocacy in the church over gambling and people's attitude that "gambling is okay," adding, "I'm thoroughly convinced America has a love affair with gambling."

"Not everyone [United Methodist] lives to the letter of the law over the Discipline [book of law]," he said. "But it's still the responsibility of the church to call attention to the dangers of gambling."

He says many people see gambling as a form of entertainment, but the "downside is people get hooked and addicted. It's happening all over the country-the statistics show it."

Last week Burruss hastily put together materials that were e-mailed to local churches to help increase awareness of the amendment and the church's stance on gambling.

He says he doesn't think people will truly be concerned until they have to pay for the social costs. "When it comes out of someone's pocket, people will get aroused by it."

Burruss hopes the conference's efforts will at least prompt education in churches about the dangers of gambling.

"People think, on the surface, it's the answer to the money crunch the state is facing, but it's a false promise," Burruss said. "There must be a better way to generate income without hurting someone."


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Parham is editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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