Because of an editing error, an article Friday incorrectly said that Alabama's first horse-racing track, in Birmingham, is to open this September. It is to open in September 1986.
If the Devil went down to Georgia, it may have been to open franchises across the Bible Belt.
There was a day when southern politicians ran like blazes from any move to allow gambling on horses, shopping on Sunday or liquor in public. That day is gone: Southern legislatures not only are addressing those one-time taboos but also rewriting some customs that for centuries have been Bible Belt law.
Among recent or pending proposals:
* South Carolina is on the verge of allowing six to eight hours of Sunday retail sales by amending a "blue law" on the books since the state was a colony. Gov. Richard W. Riley has threatened to crack down on slack enforcement if the law is not changed. Within the last year, local option referendums have allowed bars to open on Sunday in Columbia, Charleston, Hilton Head and North Myrtle Beach.
* Mississippi legislators came close to repealing similar Sunday restrictions this year but adjourned without reaching agreement. A bill to allow parimutuel betting was sidetracked near the finish line when Tommy Brooks, Mississippi Senate president pro tempore, was accused of trying to extort $50,000 from horse-racing proponents to push the proposal through.
* For the first time in the 16 years it has been proposed in Tennessee, a horse-racing bill cleared the Senate and a House committee before running into trouble on the House floor, primarily because of opposition from antigambling Gov. Lamar Alexander.
Supporters decided last week to defer the bill until next year so they could keep the Senate's approval intact.
* Alabama is building a $55 million horse-racing track outside Birmingham. The Alabama Senate also has cleared a local option referendum for Sunday liquor sales in the surrounding county.
* The Texas House yesterday approved and sent to the state Senate a bill that would remove restrictions on all Sunday sales except automobile sales, beginning in September.
Across the South, bills that would have been laughed out of the legislative chamber a few years ago are passing or coming closer each time.
"There have been incredible changes here in recent years in people's outlook, reflected in the laws that generally are rooted in moral traditions," Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers said in a recent interview. "A primary reason is people moving here from the Midwest and Northeast, bringing their customs with them."
Ben Carter, professor and specialist in southern history at Emory University here, also cites the businesses that transplanted the newcomers -- companies that frequently put their political clout into local and state issues.
"It's been almost impossible to do anything in southern politics for the last 50 years without the courthouse crowd, including the bankers and leading businessmen," Carter said. "Now, it's the Chamber of Commerce."
Earl Black, professor of government at the University of South Carolina, agreed.
"The Bible Belt's still here, but now it's in competition with forces for southern economic development," he said. Sunday liquor sales came to Columbia after the Marriott chain built a new downtown luxury hotel last year and pushed a referendum. A little more than a decade ago, drinkers in Columbia carried liquor to restaurants in brown paper bags six days a week, never on Sunday.
At the same time, however, proposals to raise the drinking age to 21 and to enforce stiffer penalties for drunken driving have won widespread support in the South. Twin campaigns against "adult" bookstores and the Playboy cable TV channel also gained momentum recently in Memphis, which has pushed parimutuel betting hardest in Tennessee.
"Outsiders moving in have brought us sort of a suburban secularization," said Carter of Emory. "Clearly, in the South, . . . old-time religious values have held on more strongly than in some of the regions of the country, but they're weakening here as well."
Carter said he believes that the recent legislative trend is partly responsible for the rise of southern-based television evangelists. "When you turn on the television, it seems like the Billy-Bobs have taken over the airways," he said. "But that is a reaction to the secularization that is, in fact, taking place. They sense it and are fighting back."
The fundamentalist lobby is still strong among southern rural legislators but increasingly less so among lawmakers from the cities. Therefore, in issues such as Sunday business, liquor and horse racing, "we're really beginning to see the impact of reapportionment," said Black. "Plus, some of our older, rural legislators are beginning to pass from the scene."
The potential benefits to local economies are tempting, even against a fundamentalists' lobby.
"We don't have the economic structure for a good government revenue-producing system," said Thad Beyle, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina. "We don't have big numbers of people making big white-collar and upper-level blue-collar salaries and paying taxes on them," he said, and states are turning to revenue-enhancing activities in the wake of federal spending cutbacks.
The states that have flirted most seriously with horse-racing legislation -- Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee -- are the ones that have shown a sharp drop in growth rates since the boom times of the 1970s because of depressed farm economies. Growth in the other southern states also has slowed from the rapid expansion of a decade ago, but is still above the national average.
The revenue argument drove Mississippi's near-enactment of horse-racing legislation aimed at Jackson, with its more sophisticated capital atmosphere, and Tunica, the country's poorest county. Tracks in those two locations would create 7,500 jobs and generate $15 million annually in state revenues, supporters argued. The proposal appeared to be gathering steam when a rumor of an impending arrest deflated it. Several days later, Brooks, 60, the state's senior senator after 29 years in office, was in FBI custody. A Pascagoula legislator has vowed to reintroduce the gambling bill.
Antigambling forces have not been able to head off the horses in Alabama. With the state's history of dog-racing tracks, parimutuel faced fewer hurdles there last year than it has in some sister states, and Birmingham's track is expected to open on schedule in September.
But as Gov. Alexander helped to divert such legislation this year in Tennessee, the staunch opposition of Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris often is credited with keeping horse racing in the starting gate here.
"There has been a clear statement against gambling consistently by all of our governors," said Jack Harwell, editor of the Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist Convention's newspaper. "We evangelicals have generated a good deal of pressure in that area. I like to think some of us have done our homework."
But state restaurant association President Bob King, who has lobbied on the other side of liquor and Sunday sales proposals in Georgia, said the South's changing attitude means expanded opportunities, especially for restaurants and entertainment. "What we're seeing is just a more realistic approach to the hospitality industry," he said. "As we become more cosmopolitan, that should continue. We're getting more and more people in the South. We even have people in the legislature here now who weren't born in Georgia. Change is slow, but it's coming."