York squares off against former Ky. governor in televised gambling debate

Communications Staff — August 3, 2007

Expanded gambling in the state of Kentucky would be a moral outrage because it involves the government attempting to cash in on sin and broken families, Hershael York said July 30 on “Kentucky Tonight,” a statewide television broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television (KET).

“Enough is enough,” said York, who serves as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. “Let’s stop it where it is. It’s bad enough. Families are being destroyed. The government getting a piece of the destruction families to me is completely unacceptable.”

Appearing with York were former Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones (D) and Patrick Neely, executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) who support expanded gambling. Joining York on the anti-gambling side was John-Mark Hack, director of Say No to Gambling.

The program explored arguments for and against a proposed constitutional amendment to expand legal gambling in the Bluegrass State.

York began his argument by quoting an editorial Jones wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1999, when the former governor opposed expanded gambling.

In the editorial Jones wrote, “Let’s get straight to the point. Casino gambling in Kentucky is a bad idea. The very thought of our own government promoting the deception of slot machines and roulette wheels is a sad commentary.”

After reading from the editorial, York asked, “Did the deception of slot machines change since 1999? And the answer, of course, is no. There is no two ways about it—you lose. Even the winners lose in casino gambling.”

Jones argued that refusing to draw revenue from the millions of Kentuckians who are already gambling in surrounding states, where casino-style gaming is legal, is foolish.

“If I could push a button right now and do away with every casino in Kentucky and in the world, I would push that button,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand is not, in my opinion, the best way to deal with it.”

More than 550,000 Kentucky residents gambled at an out-of-state casino at least four times in the past year, Jones said, and Kentucky voters should have a say in whether they reap any of the financial benefits from that gambling.

“I think it’s absolutely time that we allow the people to make the decision, as opposed to the politicians,” he said. “Then if the people say no, that they don’t want it, that’s the end of it.”

Hack argued that the money lost from expanded gambling would be greater than any money gained.

“The money going to other states will pale in comparison to the money that will leave Kentucky when casino companies come and take up residence here,” Hack said. “I think the money that will go to Nevada and New Jersey and other states where casino corporations are located will make us reminisce about the amount of money that is currently supposedly going over the bridge to Indiana.”

Neely responded that Kentucky already has expanded gambling practically because of the presence of casinos minutes away in neighboring Indiana. The only question is whether Kentucky will allow gambling to boost its economy, he said.

“For all intents and purposes, we already have expanded gaming here in Kentucky,” Neely said. “We have Indiana casinos that are perched right on our border. … The only thing that we don’t have in Kentucky are the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue that are generated at those out-of-state facilities.”

York drew attention to the negative effects of gambling, calling it “addictive behavior” and asserting that “it preys on the weakest people in society.” According to the most conservative estimates, approximately 25 percent of those who enter a casino have an annual household income of $30,000 or less, York noted.

“That is economic disaster,” he said. “That is money that’s not getting spent sometimes on necessities. What we’re doing is we’re saying that as government all we want is a piece of the money they’re losing. Our concern is simply that we get our piece of the cut, not what it does to those families, not what it does to their children.”

But Jones said the state’s main concern should be using people’s lost money to fund government projects.

“The money that’s being lost is Kentucky money,”
Jones said. “And if they’re going to lose it anyway, they need to lose it here as opposed to somewhere else.”

York called Jones’ argument as immoral and illogical.

“Governor, I find that morally reprehensible,” York responded. “To me, we might as well get into whorehouse business, we might as well get into drug business because those are vices too that people are going
to do anyway.”

In the end, Christians must realize that gambling is popular because it appeals to humans’ sinful greed, York said. He noted that the remedy for gambling is for believers in Jesus Christ to follow the admonition to love their neighbors.

“Let me say something to those people who call themselves Christians—and I know that’s not everyone,” he said. “But frankly, Jesus told us and the command is ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ You cannot claim that you love your neighbor as yourself and [that] you want to take his money from him. Gambling is based on getting somebody else’s money.”
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