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Churches oppose gambling

Diverse religions fear the adverse effects of the vice

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A common perception in Utah is that the only religion strongly opposed to gambling is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not so.

"Muslims and Buddhists are very strongly against it too," said David Robertson, past president and current board member of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG) in Washington, D.C.

The United Methodist Church, Southern Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses and a few others are also strongly against games of chance.

Robertson, who is LDS, said two key leaders of NCALG are Methodist and Baptist. They've helped organized an interfaith campaign in the South to persuade Tennessee voters to reject a state lottery that will appear on the ballot this fall.

Robertson admits sometimes a religious crusade against gambling can backfire. He said Idaho's state lottery was voted in some years ago when the public realized the LDS Church was the main opponent.

"The gambling industry has a tremendous amount of money," Robertson said, and that gives it lots of clout.

Currently, only Utah, Hawaii and Tennessee lack state lotteries.

Pastor Ron Hodges of Christ United Methodist Church, 2375 E. 3300 South, said his faith has always taken a strong stance against gambling.

The official United Methodist Church policy states: "Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, and destructive of good government.

As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice,"

He said a concern about gambling is that it affects most those who can least afford to participate in it.

Internet gambling is a key issue for his church, too.

"You can bet on anything, any time," Hodges said, noting that although pornography on the Internet is well publicized, gambling there also presents great dangers to families.

Mike Gray, pastor at Salt Lake's Southeast Baptist Church, said it's more specifically addictive gambling his faith is against.

"It's probably not a sin to go to Vegas and drop a few dollars in the slot machines," he said. "But most people don't stop there."

The church wants to warn its members that gambling can be addictive and can take money that's needed, such as for food, away from families.

Gray said Internet gambling is even more dangerous because there's little accountability when it can be done in the privacy of the home.

Robertson said Internet gambling is frightening too because it crosses all borders.

More women than men are becoming addicted to it. Participants can be forced to declare bankruptcy through it in just 1 1/2 to three years, or far quicker than with other forms of gambling, according to Robertson. Children with access to a parent's credit card can also be involved.

He believes the national Wire Act makes Internet gambling technically illegal because it is games of chance over the phone lines. However, enforcement would be extremely difficult.

Richard Wolf, an elder in the North Salt Lake congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, said his church is against gambling and a recent article in a church magazine has affirmed that position.

"There is no specific commandment in the Bible that says you must not gamble. But the fruitage of gambling is consistently bad, and this rotten fruitage has been exposed by The Watchtower and Awake! for half a century," an official church statement says.

Gambling fosters a spirit of gain at the expense of others, while the Bible encourages people to work with their own hands, Witnesses believe.

Buddhism teaches members to avoid addictions, like gambling. The Muslim religion prohibits any gambling, declaring it as unlawful.

Darwin A. John, outgoing managing director of information and communication systems for the LDS Church, agrees that gambling on the Internet is becoming a popular vice, along with pornography. However, he said, those are the Net's two downsides and there are good things there, too.

"It makes so many opportunities to learn possible," he said. "Responsible individuals and parents can manage it in a way to protect them from these downsides."

The official LDS statement on gambling is: "The church opposes gambling in any form, including government sponsored lotteries. Members are urged to join with others who have similar concerns in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling."

Many other churches don't consider gambling to be a sin, as long as it is kept in moderation and is not an addiction that ruins family life.

It is also interesting to note that while Nevada may be the gambling leader in the West, with legalized casinos, there is one town in that state that has actually banned gambling entirely.

Boulder City, southeast of Las Vegas, has specifically banned all slot machines and other forms of gambling through the town's charter. The city is also home to a diverse mix of 11 churches.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com