And He’s Not So Hot on Blackjack, Either

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God has spoken in Alabama, and He’s not a fan of state-sponsored gambling. That’s the line, at least, from Heart of Dixie religious leaders, who spearheaded a successful effort to defeat a proposed state lottery. The lottery was championed by Governor Donald Siegelman, whose 1998 election platform focused almost entirely on his pledge to bring state-sponsored gambling (and the resultant cash) to Alabama. Siegelman, who was understandably nonplussed by Tuesday’s defeat, had planned to use the profits from the lottery to bulk up the state's school budget. The voters’ rejection of the referendum paints Alabama’s much-maligned education system into a tight corner: They’ve got dwindling funds and almost no hope of an infusion — Siegelman’s other key campaign promise was not to raise taxes.

So what happened between the governor's election and the defeat of the lottery referendum? "The lottery idea was very popular initially," says TIME Montgomery bureau correspondent Ralph Holmes. "But in the past couple of months you’ve had every minister in every pulpit preaching against the lottery, warning that it would link education to gambling — and church people turned out in droves on Tuesday." Not that many of the arguments made by the Alabama anti-lottery movement don't find favor with a wide range of lottery critics across the country. Even though its proceeds go to good causes, they say, such gambling is inherently a regressive tax on the poor, whose comparitive desperation may tempt them to fritter away precious funds for the slim chance of cashing in. "The anti-lottery contingent was painting pictures of people spending their food money on lottery tickets," says Holmes. "The pro-lottery camp chafes at the idea of government protecting adults from risky behavior, and argues that the profits from state lotteries cover crucial programs like education without raising taxes." Of course, says Holmes, "the most ridiculous part of all this is that many of those churchgoers who voted against the lottery will head on down to Biloxi, Mississippi, this weekend for a little out-of-state gambling."