MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama residents voted down a state lottery to benefit public education on Tuesday, rejecting the issue that helped Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman oust Republican Fob James last year.

Critics said the lottery, which was patterned after one started in Georgia in 1993, would be an immoral tax on the poor. Opponents held a 24-hour prayer vigil on Monday at the Alabama Capitol."The ministers all over the state became engaged, educated their flock and got them to the polls," said Bob Russell, chairman of the Alabama Christian Coalition.

The proposal to legalize a state lottery was defeated by a 54 to 46 percent margin, with 94 percent of the state's precincts reporting. Officials said voter turnout was heavy.

Siegelman defeated James 11 months ago on the promise of starting an education lottery. He had predicted that a lottery could raise $150 million a year for pre-kindergarten programs, computers and scholarships.

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"Tonight the people of Alabama have spoken and tonight I accept their decision. Tomorrow we will try something else," Siegelman told lottery supporters in conceding defeat Tuesday night.

"I'm not going to stop fighting for our children's future," Siegelman said. "Our children are counting on you and me and we will not let them down."

Jim Cooper, the chairman of Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, said Siegelman's lottery plan was "full of loopholes," and would have created opportunities for government corruption.

There are 37 other states with lotteries. South Carolina is scheduled to hold a lottery referendum in November 2000.