HOULTON (AP) – The head of the Christian Civic League of Maine is taking to churches on a moral crusade against referendums on November’s ballot to allow a casino in southern Maine and slot machines at horse tracks.

Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian group, is telling clergy, parishioners and politicians that the gambling questions in the Nov. 4 election are “steeped in deceit.”

“Everybody in Maine has that Sunday school voice in the back of their mind saying what’s right and what’s wrong,” Heath told a group at the Military Street Baptist Church on Monday. “We’re here to remind people of that voice and affirm it.”

Much of the focus on whether a $650 million casino should be built in Maine has revolved around economic and social issues – not the morality of casino gambling. Supporters say a casino will create 10,000 jobs and provide a much-needed economic stimulus to Maine, while opponents say the costs will outweigh the benefits.

Heath spoke against the casino referendum, and a separate referendum on whether to allow slot machines at horse tracks, at churches in Ashland, Presque Isle, Caribou and Houlton on Sunday and Monday. He was scheduled to speak at other churches in Calais, Machias and Ellsworth on Tuesday, and be in Sanford, which has been chosen as the likely site for a casino, on Wednesday.

Polls show that support for a casino is strongest in northern Maine. In downtown Houlton, pro-casino signs dotted intersections; there were no anti-casino signs to be seen.

Inside the Military Street Baptist Church, attorney Dick Rhoda told Heath he hopes to remedy the imbalance.

“My mind is made up. I’ve been against it from Day One,” he said.

Heath’s presentation was part sermon and part fund-raiser, and was preceded by a 13-minute video featuring Heath and former Gov. Angus King, a vocal critic of casino gambling. The video features pastoral scenes of lighthouses and moose interrupted by thunderclaps and flashing blurred images of poker tables and roulette wheels.

Kim Vail shook her head in dismay.

“They say 10,000 jobs and they say $100 million for the state, but this is a moral issue, and it’s a dangerous one for the people of Maine,” she said after Heath’s talk.

Erin Lehane, spokeswoman for the pro-casino group Think About It, said the casino campaign would continue to focus on the economic benefits of a casino.

She said it would be disrespectful to challenge somebody’s moral aversion to gambling, but said national polls show only 15 percent of Americans are morally opposed to casino gambling.

“If people are morally opposed, that’s their prerogative, but they’re in the minority,” she said. “Not that that should diminish their position on it. I just don’t think the moral issue is a debatable one.”

Heath is scheduled to continue his church tour in central, coastal and western Maine in the weeks ahead.

AP-ES-10-07-03 1030EDT

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