LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Larry O'Neal was shocked when he found out the news. For eleven years he has pastored Yellow Creek Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas and has never seen or heard anything like it before. The members of the independent Baptist church which focuses its energies primarily on "soul-winning," were also shocked when they found out. People had been placing bets on how many people would get "make decisions" at the church each week.
The church of just over 500 members boasts some "500,000 souls won" in the last ten years. Each weekend the church works hard at their "bus ministry," sending out large buses to the surrounding neighborhoods and towns, picking up kids, gathering kids on the buses, preaching to them and asking them to "make a decision." The results of the weekend's work are then posted on the church's website.
"Last week alone we had 2,702 make a decision" said O'Neal. "It was one of our best weeks yet."
But as it turned out those numbers were significant in more than just a "spiritual" way. A number of bars in Las Vegas, Nevada had begun allowing their patrons to place bets as to how many souls would be "won" each week by various churches around the country. Tominthebox spoke with Joe DiCarlo, the owner of Oasis Tavern in Las Vegas about his bar's participation.
"It was simple really. People would place their bets during the week and then we'd post the numbers on Monday when the various churches would put them up on their websites. Based upon how a church did the previous week we'd have different odds for different churches."
In addition to Yellow Creek Baptist, about ten other churches found themselves "victims" of the gambling ring.
"We're debating as to what we're going to do now" said Gray Yelverton, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida. "We're against gambling here, and we're against any activity that is tied to gambling. We can't stop the soul winning, but we might have to stop posting the numbers on our website each week. But that's hard too because it's all about those numbers. Those numbers are really the most important thing, to show people how many souls we're winning out there."
But O'Neal's church has made their own decision about what to do.
"We're not going to change anything" he said. "We've got to get those numbers posted up there for all the world to see. We're steadily on our way to a million, and no one is going to stop us. If people want to bet on it then there's nothing we can do to stop them."