Why do Baptists oppose Texas lottery?

A news story published this week by a number of leading Texas newspapers — from Abilene to Dallas to San Angelo — reports on a suggestion that Texas abolish its state lottery.

The provocative San Angelo Standard-Times headline:

Baptists lobby for elimination of Texas lottery

From the Abilene Reporter-News:

Some Baptists want Texas Lottery Commission shut down

And The Dallas Morning News:

Baptist group calling on state to abolish Texas lottery

Given those headlines, anybody want to bet on whether there’s a religion angle to this report? (If I were a gambling man, I’d wager $100 that there’s not. Of course, I’ve already read the story.)

Here’s the top of the report:

AUSTIN — As lawmakers look at whether the Texas Lottery Commission is operating effectively, influential Baptists are suggesting that the lottery shouldn’t merely be tweaked. They want it abolished.

“Ask the pertinent questions. Has the lottery fulfilled its promise? My answer would be ‘no,’” said Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist Christian Life Commission.

The group contends that the lottery was sold to Texans 20 years ago as a “voluntary, nonregressive” way to raise money but instead preys on the poor and caters to impulse purchases of scratch-off tickets. Attempts to attract higher-income players with $50 scratch-off tickets haven’t worked, they say.

They question whether the lottery has provided a revenue increase for public education or simply replaced other revenue sources.

The lottery commission is one of several state agencies before the Sunset Advisory Commission, a panel of lawmakers and residents that recommends whether and how to keep an agency running. The full Legislature will make final decisions in 2013.

Keep reading, and the story focuses on the political and economic issues. However, the piece fails to delve into the Baptists’ moral objections — or not — to gambling.

Perhaps that’s not surprising. While covering a battle over a proposed Tennessee state lottery a decade ago, I recall that religious opponents purposely avoided the “sin” question:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s a moral issue. It’s not a moral issue.

That’s the mixed message from Tennessee lottery opponents fighting to keep the Bible Belt state from joining 47 other states with some form of legalized gambling.

While their hopes of defeating Tuesday’s referendum depend heavily on a grass roots Christian army, opposition leaders purposely avoid casting the vote as a sin issue, instead treating it as a policy and economic matter.

“To win, we could not make it a preacher issue,” said the Rev. Paul Durham, a Southern Baptist pastor and treasurer for the Gambling Free Tennessee Alliance. “We had to make it a truth issue.”

Still, in a story in which the primary opponents are religious in nature, shouldn’t the Texas report at least provide context on where Baptists stand on the moral question? I’d love to know, for example, if Baptist opposition is related entirely to the lottery’s impact on the poor or if there are deeper concerns.

Your turn, friendly GetReligion readers: Am I making a Powerball mountain out of a $1 scratch-off molehill? Or is this a real religion ghost?

Lottery ticket image via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jimmy

    The answer to your question is that Baptists are not afraid to point out that it is a regressive tax paid by those who can least afford it – the poor.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Actually, that statement does a nice job of advocacy. But no, it doesn’t answer my question.

  • sari


    would be a good place to start, Bobby. Scroll down to see the list of supporting agencies, which include:

    Baptist General Convention of Texas
    Concerned Women of America
    Eagle Forum
    Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
    Focus on the Family
    Free Market Foundation
    Paseo del Rio – San Antonio
    Southern Baptist Convention
    Southern Baptist Convention of Texas
    Texas Catholic Conference
    Texas Conference of Churches
    Texas District & County Attorneys Association
    Texas Freedom & Justice Foundation
    Texas Freedom Market
    Texas Impact
    Texas Public Policy Foundation

    Two seconds on the net and the reporter would have discovered that most of these organizations have lobbied against gambling for quite awhile. This is a repeat of old news, not new news.

  • carl jacobs

    There could be a religious ghost in this story. It depends on the legalistic tendencies of the Baptists involved. By stereotype, a Baptist would consider gambling a sin. On the other hand, it might just be resistance to the cultural impact of gambling.

    When the ‘gaming’ industry tried to place a casino in the city where I live, there was a lot of opposition to it from all the obvious suspects. But it wasn’t religious opposition so much as all the collateral impacts: crime, loss of certain businesses (like restaurants), a shift in the clientele attracted to the area, and a disproportionate impact on certain demographics. We stopped the casino without any reference to religious belief. In fact, it was one of the few times I have seen liberal churches and conservative churches actually work together. How about that for a ghost?

    The Lottery is a regressive tax. It sells false hope to people who have few other available avenues to a better life. The more education you possess, the more you understand the ridiculous nature of the wager. That’s why it targets the lower classes. But it’s also an easy non-controversial way for the state to raise money. You don’t have to be religious to see this. You simply have to recognize the cynical nature of the system.

    So there might be a religious ghost here. But it would be a subsidiary ghost. A Baptist might through his faith find a way to oppose gambling, but it’s not going to be the only way.


  • http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com EW

    Mormons don’t believe in gambling either. However, where there is not a strong LDS presence in a community they don’t try to eliminate casinos or lottery tickets, they just don’t participate. Separation of church and state, etc. Does that answer your question?

  • Matt

    By stereotype, a Baptist would consider gambling a sin. On the other hand, it might just be resistance to the cultural impact of gambling.

    So, you’re saying, some people might oppose gambling because it is sinful, while others oppose it because it is simply a bad idea.

    This dichotomy only makes sense if you think (as, I fear, many do) that people label things as “sinful” for irrational reasons and/or oppose “sin” because they’re killjoys. What if people oppose “sin” because they actually think it’s harmful? What if these Baptists oppose gambling both because they think it’s sinful and because they think it’s harmful? Wouldn’t that be an interesting question to ask them?

  • T.J.

    FYI, Here is a link to the Baptist argument that gambling is a sin:


  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I think there us a ghost and that the San Angelo reporter should have dug into the church’s historic position against gambling, as well as potential reasons why that position was not at the forefront of the push. The Tennessee story shows something more along those lines, and the question Matt at #6 raises at the end of his comment frames it very well.

    Bobby and I share a state, and we can point to a successful anti-lottery campaign here that relied on uncertainty about the lottery’s procedures and how it was approved. And we can point to an unsuccessful campaign that didn’t have that ammunition; asking the Texas Baptists if they had watched and learned from that and similar stories around the country could have made for some interesting reading.

  • Bruce427

    The Texas lottery was sold to Texans as a way to increase revenues for education (as many lottery promoters do). But it has not done so. Some lottery revenue may have gone to education, but politicians simply shift money already allocated to education to other pet projects.

    As a Baptist, I do not believe participating in a Friday night card game “with the boys” is a sin (unless your family is going hungry as a result). But I have paid the rent and utility bills for a number of people on government SSI because they gambled their meager incomes away hoping to hit-it-big on the lottery. Enabling that, in my view, is a sin. The lottery, objectively, does hurt low-income people. I have seen it first hand.

    Ironically, the Liberals who “say” they are all about helping the poor — are frequently the very one’s advocating for the lottery.

  • http://www.casino-online-games.com erez

    i agree.