Originally created 09/23/99

Poker foes launch heated campaign



AIKEN -- Opponents of video poker begin today a 40-day countdown to the Nov. 2 referendum that will decide whether the games remain legal in South Carolina.

That means that some local churches are handing out 40-day and 30-day prayer guides in addition to commitment cards and voter registration forms. People who promise to vote no will receive in some churches purple bracelets announcing that commitment and inviting others to inquire about the referendum.

Anti-poker forces also are distributing "Vote No" buttons, conducting neighborhood campaigns and encouraging absentee voting for those uncertain of making it to the polls. Some of those materials also will be available through businesses in the wake of a vote by Midland Valley Area Chamber of Commerce to oppose poker in the referendum.

On Wednesday in Aiken, area pastors received free copies of a graphic video about the effect of video poker on families and communities. Produced by Friends for South Carolina, the statewide organization rallying anti-poker votes, it is dedicated to Joy Baker, a 10-day-old infant who died of dehydration in a closed automobile outside a Jasper County poker parlor while her mother played for seven hours inside.

Those videos will be shown in churches and civic groups.

"The next 40 days are absolutely critical," said Aiken Republican Sen. Greg Ryberg, who heads the local component of Friends for South Carolina. "We are going to follow right through to Nov. 2, and that's how we're going to win."

The next Aiken County event in the countdown is a meeting at 7:30 tonight at Hazel Grove Baptist Church in Beech Island.

It is geared toward getting out the anti-poker message in Jackson and Beech Island.

Pro-poker materials are being distributed in convenience stores and poker parlors.

And a pro-poker organization, Vote Yes Committee, is announcing its campaign efforts today in Columbia, beginning with a forum on the taxes and restrictions that will go into effect if voters choose to keep video poker. The group also is offering a demonstration on how the state will monitor poker proceeds and collect its share through a central computer system.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.