One of the most rewarding tasks the Rev. Don Moore relishes is the chance to do a corporal work of mercy.
Heeding the words of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and generally help those in need, the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Evansville, Ind. considers good works the evidence of Christian faith.
But over the last five years, Moore has begun to suspect an increasing number of those who come to him in need are trying to scam his church for money to feed gambling addictions.
Since Casino Aztar spun its first roulette wheel on Dec. 7, 1995, the number of requests for help from the church's emergency fund has more than tripled.
Many of the requests, Moore said, come from people who have gambled away the money they needed for rent, groceries, or heating bills. But instead of asking for money for food or baby formula, they want cash.
And they're willing to tell the wildest tales to get it.
"I think almost every scam imaginable has come our way," said Moore.
For example, there's a man who came into Moore's office one day with a tragic story of how his billfold fell out of his pocket when he was in the bathroom at Eastland Mall.
When the details of the story didn't quite fit, Moore confronted him.
"He got angry and started to curse," said Moore. "He said: 'My gambling problem is none of your business.'"
Moore has a host of similar stories. One involves a man who wanted canned goods from the church food pantry. Moore discovered he'd planned to sell them on the street to raise cash to gamble.
Another involves the sad story of a jobless, homeless man who talked Moore into buying him a pair of steel-toed shoes so he could take a job offer. Turns out the luckless man convinced four other pastors in town to do the same.
Unbeknownst to the ministers, the shoes ended up returned and the cash pocketed.
Moore says he has reason to believe the money ended up in the casino.
In churches throughout Evansville, pastors are saying the same thing: The price for attracting big-time legalized gambling to Evansville is being paid by the very organizations that opposed it.
Moore was one of the opponents of the local referendum that allowed riverboat gambling.
His opposition was based on a theology that contends gambling feeds the sin of greed, makes money into a false idol, and treads heavily onto the commandment of "Thou Shall Not Steal."
"It's trying to get something for nothing," said Moore.
But the concern also went beyond sin. Church-based opponents feared they'd end up picking up the pieces of lives shattered by gambling losses.
The former pastor of Howell United Methodist Church was the president of Citizens Against Riverboat Gambling.
He's since been appointed to another church, but his former congregation feels the pain, said the Rev. Janet Akers-Dubois.
An emergency fund set up by the church to help families in need is being drained by casino gamblers, said Akers-Dubois.
One recent request came from a couple who maxed out their Master Card on the boat, racking up $10,000 on the card.
They needed money to buy food and other items for their disabled child, who they left alone on the night of their gambling spree because they couldn't afford a baby sitter.
She says she hears the same kind of story from ministers all across town.
One of the few ministers who endorsed riverboat gambling was the Rev. W.R. Brown Jr., pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.
The endorsement, though, was a matter of the lesser of two evils.
"We gave it guarded support because of the jobs we hoped it would bring," said Brown.
"For minorities, it held out the promise of steady jobs at good pay."
It was a promise that appears to have been kept, and the casino has flushed the city and some nonprofit organizations with cash.
But some organizations have turned down the money, including the United Methodist Youth Home on the city's West Side.
"We weren't going to accept money made off people's misery," said Akers-Dubois, who is on the home's board of directors.
The benevolence of the boat's owners — which came at the demand of city leaders — doesn't impress Moore.
He's weary of getting calls like a recent one he took from a woman who said she needed $380 to pay her rent or be evicted.
She had a portion of it, she told Moore, but gambled it at the riverboat in hopes of winning the rest.
Moore hasn't stopped taking requests for help, but he says he's found himself turning down more requests than he did five years ago.
"I'm just a lot more skeptical about people than I've ever been," said Moore. "I find myself at times worrying more about being scammed than helping people."
Reprinted with permission from the Evansville Courier & Press, December 11, 2000.