- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

DRESDEN, Tenn. (AP) Poll after poll brings bad news for the cause, but the Rev. Don McCulley isn't ready to surrender.
The small-town pastor has been working on a sermon making the case that voters should reject a proposed state lottery on Nov. 5 and preserve Tennessee's status as one of only three states without any legalized gambling.
"Tennessee has a golden opportunity to send a message across the states," Mr. McCulley said in his study at Dresden's First Baptist Church. "If we don't defeat the lottery, we compromise a moral voice that we now have."
Though Mr. McCulley's fervor is shared by many religious leaders, the lottery has 2-1 support in recent statewide surveys. Approval would leave only Hawaii and Utah without legalized gambling and underscore how the nation has changed in 40 years.
Back then, no states had lotteries, and only Nevada had casinos. Now 38 states have lotteries, 30 have casinos. A proposal to start a lottery is on the November ballot in North Dakota as well as Tennessee. Arizonans will decide whether to let racetracks add slot machines.
Steve Cohen, the state senator from Memphis who heads Tennessee's pro-lottery campaign, says opponents are misguided in depicting the vote as a battle for the state's soul.
As with gaming debates in other places, what motivates Mr. Cohen has more to do with geography and revenue than morality. Tennessee borders eight states, and all offer some form of gambling from lotteries to dog racing to a flotilla of riverboat casinos wooing Memphis-area residents into northwest Mississippi.
Referring to a famed vista from Lookout Mountain along the Tennessee-Georgia state line, Mr. Cohen said, "You can see seven states you can see Tennesseans taking their money to other states to gamble."
Mr. Cohen contends that many millions of dollars now underwriting education and other programs in neighboring states can be kept in Tennessee, where a $480 million budget shortfall is compounded by lawmakers' refusal to approve a state income tax.
The ballot item wouldn't actually create a lottery. It would remove a constitutional ban, and lawmakers would then proceed with an already agreed-on plan to establish a lottery similar to Georgia's.
Proceeds would provide scholarships for eligible Tennesseans attending colleges in the state. Any extra funds would be used for school construction and before- or after-school programs.
Mr. Cohen insists that creating a lottery would not lead to other forms of gambling. James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, disagrees.
"If you remove the restriction on gambling at all, the door is wide open," said Mr. Porch. His denomination the largest in Tennessee is delivering 3.2 million anti-lottery leaflets to Baptist churches statewide.
Dresden, a town of 2,800 in northwest Tennessee, epitomizes the churchgoing, rural-flavored attitudes that prevail across the state. Yet Mr. McCulley author of a book called "Gambling Fever" says many residents seem apathetic about the lottery.
Election placards abound throughout the region for candidates such as Tom "Redneck" Gardner and Fireball Roberts but few anti-lottery signs are visible except at churches.
"It makes me sad," Mr. McCulley said of the nationwide spread of lotteries and casinos. "I think gambling is an indication people are searching for something to fill the void in their lives."

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