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Church members help defeat proposal

Church members figured prominently in the recent successful effort to defeat a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have allowed "games of chance" on river boats in Missouri.

The effort is an example of what can happen when Church members join in partnership with "like-minded people" for the good of society, said Pres. G. Richard Oscarson of the St. Louis Missouri Stake.Amendment 3 was defeated in April by 1,261 votes out of more than 1 million cast in the statewide election. The amendment would have lifted a ban in the state constitution against slot machines and other games of chance such as roulette.

Voters in 1992 approved a law authorizing gambling in river boats on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, subject to voter approval in individual communities. But the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that slot machines appear to be unconstitutional since they require little skill to play, and ordered a lower court to determine whether slot machines are games of skill or games of chance.

The state legislature, in an effort to resolve the question sooner, placed the measure on the ballot. Its defeat does not outlaw gambling on the river boats altogether, as "games of skill" such as blackjack and poker are still allowed, but it does limit the river boat wagering.

"The big lesson is what can happen when people get organized and go to work," Pres. Oscarson said. "Against tremendous odds things can happen. And I think there's a message for people in other states where such measures are proposed. Don't just sit back and say, `Ah, there's no chance, no way we can defeat it in our state.' If they get busy and work with other churches and other interested groups, it can happen."

In Missouri, the effort took about six weeks. Moreover, it was initiated by people who were not members of the Church, a group called Citizens for Life and Liberty, headed by Mark Andrews, a businessman, and his wife, Pat.

Pres. Oscarson and his wife, Linda, were contacted in February by Anita Hsu, the Andrews' daughter, who had spearheaded an effort to defeat gambling in Chesterfield County last November. In that effort, she was assisted by Church members in the two wards in that county. She asked the Oscarsons for help in defeating the amendment statewide.

Sister Oscarson, a member of the stake public affairs committee, accepted the responsibility to coordinate the effort in St. Louis County.

"How do you start?" she inquired. "I just started calling everybody I knew. However, people tend to be very busy, and it was difficult to get people going, really difficult."

Pres. Oscarson added: "The reaction of most people was, Hasn't that already passed?' andIs there anything to be done?' It was a tremendous education effort to say no, we have a second chance to vote against gambling."

"What we're talking about," Sister Oscarson explained, "is setting up telephone banks every night, 28 hours a week, every week for a month." The objective was to encourage those who were against the measure to vote on election day. The effort also involved sending out mailings and getting the message out through newspaper accounts and news broadcasts.

The campaign spread to include Church members throughout the state. "Probably at least 50 percent of the organized workers against the amendment in St. Louis County were Church members, and across the state, they estimated Church members comprised about 25 percent," Sister Oscarson said.

But the Latter-day Saints could not have accomplished it alone, the Oscarsons said, and a significant benefit was the building of bridges to people of other faiths in the effort to defeat the amendment.

Pres. Oscarson is a member of the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis, and through his efforts, that group issued a statement against the amendment. The organization consists of all major religions in the city, including Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Jewish and Methodist.

The Church has long opposed gambling. A Jan. 5, 1991, statement from the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reaffirmed that stance, stating: "The Church . . . opposes gambling in its various forms. Experience has clearly shown gambling to be harmful to the human spirit, financially destructive of individuals and families, and detrimental to the moral climate of communities. The attitude of the Church on this matter has been consistent and clear over a period of more than a century. Starting with President Brigham Young and affirmed most recently by President Ezra Taft Benson, Latter-day Saint leaders have denounced gambling as an evil that `tends to break down the moral and spiritual strength of the people.' "