By BETTY RYBERG
Ten years ago Hurricane Hugo cut a devastating swath across South Carolina. Its destructive force has just been vividly recalled by the passing of Hurricane Floyd. The homes and lives of the wealthy and secure were as damaged as those of the poor and deprived. Education and economics were no safe life buoys. The peril of a hurricane certainly is nonpartisan, nonracial, and nondenominational. Ten years later, can we not compare the destruction caused by that storm to video poker?
For those caught in its path the future of video poker is a storm that hovers. Many citizens of South Carolina never felt the force of Hugo that destroyed the lives of others nor the recent scare of Hurricane Floyd. In Aiken, we neither felt the wind nor heard the rain. We never saw the damage.
However, we did react, and we did respond to the emergency. We are facing that same dilemma today with the video poker referendum. There are citizens over whose lives video poker has wreaked havoc. Then there are the rest of us with no personal immediate disaster looming. As with the hurricane, this devastation knows no economic, racial, political, religious barriers to its victims. But can we simply fail to respond because we don’t see it, hear it, or feel it?
The video poker referendum will divide our state into two natural factions: those who economically benefit from poker and those with lives in ruin. That leaves the rest of the voters untouched by a forecast that they can neither feel nor see. South Carolinians have now become experts at emergency preparedness. A hurricane warning brings immediate attentiveness and appropriate caution. Those same citizens must now respond to the warning bell to defeat the video poker referendum. There will be no recourse after Nov. 2. To simply say today that we did not see it coming will not prevent the disaster.
The future of South Carolina will be well served by the undecided voters reading the anti-poker messages put forth from groups as diverse as the AME churches, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, and the majority of South Carolina elected officials. Furthermore, a united movement by a multitude of religious denominations is seeking to undermine the empty promises issued by the pro-video poker telephone callers.
I recently heard a senior citizen recommend that we vote for video poker in hopes of receiving prescription drug payment relief for senior citizens. In response, a city council woman countered there would be no quick fix from video poker money. Our education, our senior citizens concerns, our environment, and our economic development are far too serious areas for us to even consider dependence upon the elusive video poker money.
It is a natural human phenomenon to ignore warnings unless touched by or educated about the danger. The dangers of drinking while driving as well as driving without seat belts are two risks about which the public has been educated and has responded accordingly. The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance have studied the effects of video poker over our most valuable asset, the South Carolina work force. These two well-informed entities have recently taken a very vocal and decisive stand to educate and to urge South Carolinians to vote ‘no’ on Nov. 2. The advice is based on fact not promise, on reason not emotion.
In the final analysis video poker money blanketing our state with promises will not comfort us, it will ultimately smother us.
Betty Ryberg is a resident of Aiken and a lector at St. Mary Help of Christians Parish. She volunteers on five boards and councils in Aiken County.