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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