Dolly Parton, call your agent

dice2Thanks to blogger Jon Swerens, who has found this story on Mississippi’s debate about rebuilding casinos on land, on water or at all. The story touches on the religion angle of this debate, but in a regrettable parade of characters from central casting, Bible Belt division:

Religious leaders carried signs and shouted about the evils of gambling outside the Capitol on Tuesday as hordes of casino execs, Coast leaders and lobbyists courted lawmakers inside.

Hurricane Katrina is spawning a new storm, this one political, as Mississippi lawmakers in special session ponder whether to let destroyed casinos rebuild on dry land instead of the floating barges to which they were previously restricted.

“I'm here representing my lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” the Rev. Kendall Boutwell of Brookhaven told the House Gaming Committee at the start of a lengthy hearing. Boutwell said gamblers are covetous, in violation of the 10th commandment, and are idolaters.

"What do you suggest we do about the thousands of people displaced, without jobs, from that industry?" Rep. Leonard Bentz, R-Biloxi, asked Boutwell.

Boutwell responded that the Coast should create more wholesome tourist attractions, like Dollywood.

Reporter Geoff Pender of The Sun Herald's capital bureau summarizes the clash this way: "Mississippi, with its Bible Belt roots, and its Legislature have had an uneasy relationship with casino gambling."

I cannot fault Pender for reporting what he witnessed -- including signs, shouting and invocations of Dollywood -- but to reduce opposition to gambling to "Bible Belt roots" is to miss a far more complicated and interesting story.

For decades, opposition to gambling has been one issue on which conservative and liberal believers have worked together.

About the art: Dice, posted by RobW on Flickr (Creative Commons Deed).

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