It was called everything from the work of the devil to downright undignified.

After testimony that sounded more like a Sunday sermon than a legislative hearing, even the biggest proponent of a Virginia state lottery said the odds are against him.

"Too many people still think the sky will fall in," Del. J.W. (Billy) O'Brien Jr. (D-Virginia Beach) said after a House committee postponed its vote until Wednesday on his bill, which would allow Virginians to decide the question of a state-sponsored lottery.

"It's a gambling bill, pure and simple," charged a representative of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. "It would create a breeding place for unsavory elements."

The Rev. Thomas Shreve of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond said that with a lottery "organized crime receives an open invitation to come to Virginia."

"It is is against the dignity of a great state like this to serve as bookmakers," offered Bishop Robert Blackburn of Virginians Against State Sponsored Gambling.

And, in what was perhaps the ultimate barb, one opponent noted, "I'm certain Thomas Jefferson would be opposed to a state lottery."

O'Brien, who says a lottery could bring as much as $255 million a year into state coffers, said that even though his colleagues in the 1986 session may kill the proposal for the fifth consecutive year, "Just as soon as Gramm-Rudman goes into effect, we'll approve this."

He added that thousands of Virginia dollars are spent in lotteries sponsored by the adjacent District of Columbia, Maryland and West Virginia.

A Virginia Beach Civitan Club bused 34 members to Richmond to support O'Brien's effort, noting that elderly citizens would be among the hardest hit by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act.

As for the argument that a lottery is merely state-sponsored gambling, 85-year-old Sam Houston told the House General Laws Committee: "Thousands of very nice bridge players love to gamble in their game."