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 Video Poker Tithing

Published Thursday, September 30, 1999, in The State newspaper.

Churches must act & not watch blacks tithe to poker gods
Will a man rob God?; Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, In what way have we robbed You?; In tithes and offerings. -- Malachi 3:8

By WARREN BOLTON (an African-American)
Editorial Writer

I have heard black ministers bemoan the fact that many of their members have not reached the point where they are willing to tithe to the church.

"If they'd only give a tenth.. ," the pastors say, as they talk about the needs of the church.

If black ministers don't get more involved in the fight to ban video poker, video gambling could ensure that some members and prospective members will never be able to tithe. A disproportionate number of blacks spend inordinate amounts of time before poker machines, heads bowed, feeding hard-earned money into the devices.

Sadly, blacks are essentially tithing to this evil industry. Studies show about 60 percent of video poker players are African-Americans and that they account for 50 percent or more of the money wagered on video poker.

That means black players feed around $1.4 billion into the machines, which take in $2.8 billion. Studies show that black buying power in South Carolina is in the area of $13 billion or so. That means that the amount of money that blacks put into video poker machines equals a tenth or more of the total disposable income of all blacks in South Carolina.

Video poker has become a god to some people. That is god, little "g." Some people have become devout worshipers who visit South Carolina's many and varied poker shrines -- casinos, convenience stores, bars -- to pay homage to this insidious industry.

Players worship machines daily, many of them forsaking all: family, friends, children, houses, cars, jobs. Video poker seemingly takes over their minds and their money.

Too many South Carolinians are sacrificing their lives and livelihoods on video poker's unholy altar.

While some black church denominations and pastors -- the AME Zion's, the AMEs and black United Methodist ministers -- have taken strong stands against video poker, far too many are ambivalent about this devourer. I have talked to many black churchgoers who say they either are going to vote for video poker or they don't care what happens with the vote.

There are some churches, black and white, where pastors are hesitant to address the issue head-on. They fear they might offend members who gamble or own places that profit from machines.

I wonder how those pastors bring themselves to preach against lying, fornication, stealing or any other kind of sin.

Rep. Joe Neal, a minister, said he can understand that some ministers might find the situation an awkward one. However, he said: "Right is right. It's difficult not to say that a sin is a sin, no matter who is doing it."

Bishop Joseph Johnson, who presides over the AME Zion Church's South Atlantic District, said pastors must confront evil. He said if pastors have people in their congregations who work in the industry in some capacity, they should still do what is right. "I remind them that people of faith believe that the just shall live by faith and not by luck."

Black pastors everywhere ought to be concerned that African-Americans are sinking more than 10 percent of their collective buying power into poker machines. Many of them may not be churchgoers or born-again Christians, but churches ought to be worried.

Rep. Neal said it bothers him that 60 percent of those playing video poker are African-Americans.

"That's worrisome to me. I call it electronic sharecropping," he said, adding that hard-working black people are throwing their money away a dollar at a time in poker machines. In the meantime, the nearly 100 percent white ownership is making the money.

This exploitation must stop, Rep. Neal said. However, he said, he doesn't see the enthusiasm among ministers needed to get people out to vote to ban poker. He said the challenge is first educating ministers adequately on the countless problems video poker causes and then getting them to provide the proper information to their congregations. The proper mechanisms are not in place to effectively do that.

There is still a lot of work to be done in African-American communities. And there is still time. Pastors and church leaders must be committed.

Black voters showed in this past gubernatorial contest that they can mobilize and influence an election. The question this time around is whether black voters will turn out for a single-issue referendum. And, if so, how will they vote?

That is why it is important that pastors and church leaders educate their congregations. They must make the case for voting "No" on Nov. 2, 1999.

In the 1994 county-by-county vote on poker, black voters overwhelmingly supported the industry. That was then, and this is now. The industry is much larger, much more damaging and much different. Blacks need to know that.

It boggles my mind that black leaders aside from religious leaders aren't speaking up more against this industry. Where are the politicians? Certainly, the usual ones are there. Rep. Neal, Rep. Ralph Canty, Sen. Darrell Jackson and a handful of others.

There are many other influential voices that are silent.

Where, for example, is the NAACP? Could it be so enthralled in the bid to bring the Confederate flag from atop the State House that it doesn't recognize the economic hit black South Carolina is taking from video poker?

Unfortunately, the loudest, most consistent black voice on video poker is Sen. Robert Ford, who is doing everything in his power to hand this state, and its poor, weak and black residents, over to video poker.

He has practically offered to pimp the black vote on video poker's behalf.

And for what? A few dollars donated to his political action committee...

A measly 30 pieces of silver.

Mr. Bolton could be reached by way of that newspaper's website.
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[posted 2 Oct. 1999]