JEFFERSON CITY - Bolstering their stand to thwart the gaming industry in Missouri, the United Methodist Church sponsored anti-gambling strategy sessions for Missourian Methodists in Columbia Tuesday and Wednesday.
Pastors, district coordinators and other church officials met with Casino Watch's Pat Andrews at the Community United Methodist Church on 3301 W. Broadway to discuss preparation for Missouri's Nov. 3 general election - where boats-in-moats will be an amendment issue.
Futures of ten of 16 riverboat casinos on and near the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers rest with the Nov. 3 vote. When all 16 boats are operating, legislators estimate Missouri receives more than $140 million from gambling revenue, less than one percent of the state's total expenses.
Andrews, a researcher for Casino Watch political arm "SHOW ME the River," warned church leaders the results of the vote could have dramatic impact on a situation that is currently volatile for both opposers and adherents of the gambling industry.
"If casinos get away with this one we've lost total control. . .next time they're not even going to bother to dig a hole," Andrews said, suggesting land-based casinos would be next for Missouri.
On the other hand, Andrews said, limiting the gambling casinos to the rivers would be a "mortal wound" to the industry.
"If they build where they were supposed to . . .we're telling the national stock exchange that we have regulated these casinos," she said. "Then they won't be able to expand because they won't have the investments.
Andrews said gambling foes must organize a grass roots framework to activate 300,000 of the 1,000,000 Missourians who did not vote in the 1994 election that approved expanding riverboat gambling.
In addition to pastors preaching from their pulpits and ensuring the registration of their congregations, other devices to lure voters, like phone banks and a mass-mailed series of postcards, were advocated in the Columbia session.
"It's a real grass roots effort - something that pro-gambling does not have," said Tom Statler a United Methodist Church pastor at Midway Locust Grove Church just west of Columbia.
"The meeting helped churches in our state learn how to mobilize support. . .I think it's very feasible to reach the 300,000 voter target, considering we have close to 1,000 churches alone among United Methodists Churches."
Don Posten, a spokesman for the gambling industry's campaign organization, Missourians for Fairness and Jobs maintained that support for the gambling industry is stronger than SHOW ME the River's numbers show.
A recent poll for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found a statistical dead heat on the November ballot issue.
But Posten pointed out the poll showed support jumping to 54.6 percent when the question was asked with reference to loss of riverboat jobs, tax and education money gambling provides and the fairness issue.
Posten said the gambling industry will mount its own grass root effort to corral voters.