When I arrived to serve First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee in 1985, Florida was coming down with a bad case of lottery fever. Both conservative Christian groups and the liberal-leaning Florida Council of Churches opposed the establishment of a state-run lottery, even though proponents insisted that funds derived by separating fools from their money would be used to “enhance education.”
I joined Southern Baptists and Unitarians to say that the state should not encourage the something-for-nothing mentality that undergirds “gaming.” (You can’t say “gambling” anymore. That word has been stricken from the lexicon.) We opposed the lottery on moral grounds.
We lost, of course. The voters of Florida, in their infinite wisdom (or utter gullibility) took the bait. And guess what! The pea wasn’t under the shell after all. Over time, the tax dollars that should have gone to education went elsewhere. And the Governor is praised for proposing a budget increase for education that barely makes up for last year’s cut.
Meanwhile the ads for the Lottery grow increasingly surreal. Throwing your money away on lottery tickets is not an exercise in cupidity after all. It’s a way of “contributing” to education.
Eat your heart out, George Orwell.
The slide down the slippery slope has brought us to Gretna, a town in that is 85 per cent black and has an unemployment rate of 25 percent. In a few days the residents of Gadsden County will get to vote on whether to allow slot machines to be added to the barrel racing and card games that are already underway at Creek Entertainment Gretna.
There’s not much doubt which way the vote will go. The allure of jobs and new tax revenues is powerful. My colleague, The Rev. Mr. Charles Scriven, a man of impeccable integrity, has launched an effort to defeat the slots. Alas, the momentum is against him.
We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “Gaming” is probably here to stay. The best we can do is to try to contain it as best we can. Still, I can’t relinquish the dream of a system that uses equitably-derived tax dollars to further the public good.
“Gaming” is a social evil, no matter how many voters approve it. It’s bad for families, bad for individuals, and bad public policy. Dress it up anyway you want, it’s still a pig in a poke.