Bible Belt jackpot: Might Alabama lose its religion and approve a state lottery?

For now, Alabama remains one of six states without a lottery, according to an ABC News report.

But could that soon change?

As early as the Nov. 8 general election, voters in that Bible Belt state may be asked to approve a lottery to help fund state government and education.

Is there a potential religion angle here? 

You think?

Fortunately for news consumers, veteran Godbeat pro Greg Garrison, who writes for the Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group, already is on top of the story:

Garrison wrote last week:

A Jefferson County ministry group representing dozens of area clergy has issued a statement opposing a state lottery in Alabama.
The Gatekeepers Association of Alabama, a group of about 25 pastors that has met monthly for the past year and has included as many as 41 clergy, said a lottery runs counter to biblical principles.
 "We serve one another; we don't rob another," said the Rev. Jim Lowe, senior pastor of Guiding Light Church in Birmingham. "It's blatantly obvious that countless Alabama families would have a stumbling block placed before them if a lottery passes."
The group quoted Romans 14:13-19, in which the Apostle Paul urges Christians to "make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."
State-sponsored sale of lottery tickets is just such a stumbling block for vulnerable families, Lowe said.
"There are vices such as these that destroy the family," Lowe said. "When you break families, you break communities. In order for somebody to win, somebody's got to lose. In the case of a lottery, there are thousands of losers. That's contrary to the word of God."

If the referendum moves forward, there will be no shortage of angles for journalists to cover — from the politics to the economics to, yes, the morality. Alabama is, after all, the nation's second-most religious state (after Mississippi), according to Gallup.

In my time with The Associated Press, I spent months covering the battle over a proposed Tennessee state lottery in 2002.

Interestingly, religious opponents purposely avoided the "sin" question in the Volunteer State — as I noted in a story for AP's national political wire the week of the election:

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.”
The campaign’s lack of Bible thumping reflects political and theological realities in the battle over lifting a constitutional ban on a lottery. Polls have consistently shown most Tennesseans – those in the pews and otherwise – see no inherent evil in the concept of a lottery.

Despite that tactic, Tennessee religious opponents lost anyway. 

Could the same scenario play out in neighboring Alabama? It sounds like we'll soon find out.

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