Legalizing casinos offers ministry opportunities for Arkansas Baptists

    November 8, 2018

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    Editor's Note: The full text of this article is available in the Nov. 15 edition of the Arkansas Baptist News. Subscribe.

    Margaret Colson
    Arkansas Baptist News

    WHILE A DISAPPOINTING outcome for Arkansas Baptists the approval of a constitutional amendment by Arkansas voters legalizing casinos in four counties in the state presents ministry opportunities for churches to expand outreach to the gambling industry as well as individuals and families impacted by gambling.

    The approval of Issue 4 by voters Nov. 6 legalized casino gambling not only in Pope and Jefferson counties but also at the Oaklawn horse track in Hot Springs and Southland dog track in West Memphis two venues that already offer video poker and other electronic gambling.

    Arkansas Baptists publicly opposed Issue 4 as stated in a resolution that passed unanimously at the 2018 Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) Annual Meeting Oct. 23-24 in Jonesboro urging Arkansans to vote against the measure thus “denying the gambling industry the opportunity to prey on the weakest most vulnerable and most desperate of our fellow Arkansans.”

    Greg Sykes president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention expressed appreciation for Arkansas Baptists who rallied against Issue 4. “In Pope County it was disheartening to learn of so many who were unwilling to take a stand to protect the most vulnerable in our culture … but Arkansas Baptists never blinked. Pastors rallied their congregations to go to the polls and vote against the casino movement and the convention passed a strong resolution opposing Issue 4. I am grateful to be an Arkansas Baptist and know that our churches are filled with individuals who not only believe in the Word of God and the truth of Jesus Christ but also are willing to sacrifice their time and reputations to protect ‘the least of these’” he said.

    Still the measure passed with an unofficial 54 percent approval by voters the Democrat-Gazette reported.
    Issue 4 failed among Pope County voters with an unofficial 60 percent of voters in the county voting against the measure the Russellville Courier reported.

    “The outcome of statewide voting on Issue 4 the casino gambling amendment was disappointing. We were praying and hopeful that we could prevail at the ballot box but we fell short” said Larry Page executive director of Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council and a vocal opponent of Issue 4.

    Dire predictions but opportunities

    “Despite what the sponsors of Issue 4 kept insisting in their ads and promotions there is not a single positive outcome for Arkansas that expanded casino gambling will produce. As we stated several times over the past few months a state cannot gamble itself into prosperity but it can gamble itself into poverty rampant crime broken marriages and dysfunctional families bankruptcies suicides lost businesses and jobs and a general and significant decline in its quality of life” Page said.
    In a social media post Doug Hibbard pastor East End Baptist Church East End and president of the Arkansas Baptist News board of directors challenged “Arkansas Baptists to work on figuring out how to do ministry to: 1) People with gambling problems because we’ll see those spread in our state; 2) Single parents because the gambling problems will destroy more marriages; 3) Workers in casinos because we cannot treat the people who take an available job like untouchables … and 4) People who are trapped in the other side businesses like the spread of the sex industry that will follow this.”

    Hibbard added “We can identify the problems so let’s get started now with how we meet the people who will be buried in those problems with the gospel.

    “Casinos are not what is best for Arkansas. This was a bad choice so let’s figure out what we can do even with the bad choice.”

    In Pope County Citizens For A Local Choice led by Arkansas Baptist Jim Knight presented a local option referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. The referendum in Pope County which would require an election to allow a casino to come to the area passed in the county with nearly 70 percent of voters supporting the referendum the Russellville Courier News reported.

    Knight told the Arkansas Baptist News “Because we have a local ordinance for Pope County there will continue to be a fight to keep Casino’s out of Pope County. Arkansas Baptists can help us in this fight in several ways: 1) Pray for God’s guidance and provision as we press on 2) contribute financially to help us fight this issue potentially in the courts and at the polls and 3) contact your local legislatures to encourage them to craft legislation around this amendment that will hopefully minimize the fallout from this decision.

    Individuals desiring more information about assisting financially may contact Larry Walker at

    Contact Margaret Colson at