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Gambling industry refuses debate with opposition

October 13, 1998
By: Najeeb Hasan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Methodist opponents of Amendment 9 on Missouri's Nov. 3 ballot are engaging debate with television screens.

Complaining of the gambling industry's policy of nonparticipation in a series of four debates launched Monday night in Independence by the United Methodist Church, methodist debaters have resorted an unorthodox, one-sided debate.

"We run 30-second bits from their advertisements and then offer a rebuttal," said Tom Grey, an ordained methodist minister and Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. "It's very difficult since the TV doesn't talk back to you.

Officials from the United Methodist Church and Grey will spend the week leapfrogging around the state to include St. Joe, Springfield and Sikeston as the three remaining debate sites, said Peggy Eschelman, the spiritual formation and social justice chair for the Missouri West Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"We're fulfilling a promise," she said. "We said we were going to study the issue and then ask people in favor of boats-in-moats to debate."

Don Posten, a spokesperson from the campaign office of workers in the gambling industry, said participating in one-on-one argument would prove fruitless.

"It's been our policy from day one," Posten said. "We're too busy trying to reach people who have not made up their minds. People at the debates have already made up their minds. Debate doesn't do us any good."

The debates, which are structured to the guidelines of the League of Women Voters and include an unbiased moderator, are part of a bottom-up campaign against an industry which has already spent $55 million to support amendment 9, Grey said.

"In a public arena they can't throw dollar bills at us so they choose not to appear," said Grey. "I believe they're hiding. That's the bottom line. In America, if you try to hide with something on the ballot that should send a message to the voters."