‘Prayer over money’: Proposed gambling casino near Branson defeated
By Allen Palmeri
August 3, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Religious conservatives in Missouri who flocked to the polls Aug. 3 to support a constitutional amendment affirming traditional marriage also helped defeat another amendment seeking to place a riverboat gambling casino near Branson, a national tourist destination known for its love of God, family and country.
Voters, by a 56-44 percent margin, defeated Amendment 1, which would have amended the state’s constitution to allow casino gambling on the White River in Rockaway Beach. The measure, along with another ballot issue, Amendment 2 (constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage) motivated Christians to vote and contributed to a record turnout for a primary in the state. Some 43 percent of Missouri’s approximately 3.5 million registered voters showed up at polls on a day in which the heat index hit 110.
“I think the marriage amendment mobilized the church to get out this vote, and gambling suffered greatly because of that,” said Rodney Albert, chairman, Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Christian Life Commission, and pastor, Hallsville Baptist Church. “The message of the church is penetrating the hardness of our culture.”
The 600,000-member MBC helped lead the voter registration and education effort statewide. The convention launched a massive education campaign dubbed “NoMOGambling.” The slogan sent the double message of no more gambling in general as well as no “MO” gambling in Missouri. The convention created a website, www.nomogambling.com, that provided resources on the issue. The MBC also mailed approximately 500,000 bulletin inserts to churches along with informational CDs. Pastors throughout the state preached sermons on gambling as sin and prayer groups throughout the state made the issue a matter of priority.
“We certainly cannot underestimate the power of God in this,” Albert said. “God rewards faithful laborers, and we have both the natural blessing of people who are faithful to God’s word and we have the superintending hand of Providence who blessed Missouri by shutting the door on gambling. God blesses the efforts of righteous men, and when we seek to advance His cause we’re doing the real work of the Christian. The real heart of the Christian is to glorify God in whatever way possible.”
An alternative media strategy featuring websites, an electronic newsletter and emails by the “Show Me You Care” campaign, a pro-family movement fueled by the marketing expertise and financial backing of Peter Herschend, vice chairman, Herschend Family Entertainment which owns Silver Dollar City near Branson, proved to be decisive. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kansas City Star editorialized against the casino. Both cities already have their own casinos.
Forwarded emails were a vital part of the alternative media strategy. “Show Me You Care” sent more than 1,000 emails twice a week, Herschend said. Half of those went to re-senders like the MBC. Those re-senders were the ones who got the word out very effectively, he said.
“The Christian Homeschoolers Association in the state has a lady in West Plains who gets our email twice a week,” said Herschend. “She, in turn, just hits the button and redistributes that information to her 2,000 households.”
Before the vote, Herschend and his wife, JoDee, sent a personal appeal to people in their email address books to vote no on the casino, asking those same people to forward the appeal to everyone in their email address books.
Marketing research paid for by “Show Me You Care” indicated that Missouri residents needed to be reminded of their belief that the state has enough gambling. At the same time, in an internal meeting May 26 at the Baptist Building in Jefferson City, the MBC conceived its campaign slogan of “No MO Gambling”—three words arrived at free of charge that proved to be full of marketing savvy.
The other half of the paid-for “Show Me You Care” marketing emphasis, Herschend said, was to reinforce how gambling runs contrary to Missouri’s family-friendly image.
“The advertising from Las Vegas says, ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’” Herschend said. “That implies that something’s going on that shouldn’t be going on. That’s precisely the image we don’t want to have in Missouri, and the Missouri voters, in our research, have said that.”
Money did not buy this election. The MBC spent $36,000 and Show Me You Care spent $1.4 million. The opposition spent $12 million.
Herschend said pro-family groups had something else going for them.
“I’ll take prayer over money,” he said. “The Lord’s on our side. I have such a tremendous prayer group working. I have consciously sought out prayer groups around the nation to be in prayer about this. I believe very, very strongly that this is a tool that they don’t have.
“The issue is one that excites passion on our side. The people who are for gambling, other than the people immediately involved in it, are not passionate about it. If you can find the passion button that motivates people, you can win in spite of millions of dollars on the other side.”
MBC Executive Director David Clippard was delighted that Missouri voters spoke so clearly, with such a well-defined Christian worldview, on two moral issues—marriage and gambling.
“We are so pleased that the Lord gave us a victory on two battlefronts,” Clippard said. “We have much to be thankful for.”