Over 70% of Americans report taking part in it at least once in 2002. It brings in $61 billion a year in gross revenues. It can be the cause of a host of personal and societal problems, yet it's legal in 48 states and online. Gambling, formerly disreputable and often times illegal, is now known euphemistically as "gaming." According to one industry executive, "The gaming industry is part of the fabric of American society."
In the 1970s and '80s, when gambling was enjoying a widespread resurgence in popularity, I spoke often on the subject. In recent years, the churches at which I speak haven't even brought up the topic. A mindset that sees little wrong with gambling has grown up in America with the aid of the church and the government. Now, a moralizing conservative finds that much of his message has been neutralized by his gambling addiction.
Recently, William Bennett, a standard bearer for conservative and moral values, was revealed as having a gambling problem. For years he preached self-control, moderation and morality, and now he's caught in a trap of waste, secrecy and poor example. Liberals jumped on the story and called Bennett a hypocrite. Suddenly, even liberals, who are known for their tolerance, were willing to call gambling a vice. A few die-hard conservatives were quick to point out that Bennett had done nothing illegal and declared he was not addicted to gambling, although he had red carpet treatment in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and had lost $8 million over the last few years.
But what is legal is not always moral. Perhaps it's time to once again address the issue of gambling.
Gambling has existed since ancient times. In fact, Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' robe at His crucifixion. It's been a part of American history as a money-making program since the first colonists arrived. English companies used lotteries to raise funds for the colonies. When the war for independence started, the Continental Congress voted a $10 million lottery to finance it. This was abandoned since it was too large and the tickets could not be sold.
Gambling has variously been prohibitedmostly due to fraud and dishonestyand popular. George Washington banned gambling among his soldiers. Later, numerous lotteries to raise funds for buildings, monuments, institutions and churches were barred due to fraud and waste. By 1860, 24 of the 36 states had lotteries, but by 1894, the country had had enough, and 35 states passed laws prohibiting lotteries. When Louisiana finally abolished its lottery in 1895, it was found to have been rife with fraud, bribery and scandal. By 1910, virtually all forms of gambling were prohibited in the United States.
The economic woes of the Great Depression changed attitudes toward gambling. Horseracing made a comeback. Organized crime was responsible for the growth of gambling in Las Vegas, and Nevada legalized most forms of it in 1931.
States began to hit tough economic times, and there was growing opposition to raising taxes. The use of lotteries as a way to increase revenue once again became a popular idea. In 1964, New Hampshire was the first state to once again sponsor a lottery, and other states soon followed. In 1978, New Jersey became the second state to legalize casino gambling, and in 1988, the Supreme Court gave Indians the right to run casinos. Iowa became the first of the Mississippi River states to license riverboat gambling in 1991. Today, all states with the exception of Utah and Hawaii have lotteries (the most popular form of gambling). Some states have multiple lotteries and many participate in multi-state lotteries.
Why are people drawn to gambling? For some, it is financial need. Christian financial expert Larry Burkett described gambling as "an almost irresistible enticement to people who desire to meet the wants and needs of their families but find that they cannot. That's why state lotteries have become so popular."
Other people gamble for entertainment and the thrill of the risk. A well-known behaviorist stated that "...gambling permits people to lose themselves in the action of the moment." A Las Vegas casino owner put it this way. "What is gambling? It's really just a hype on emotion." When lotteries and casinos were on the rise some years ago, one state gambling official declared, "We are selling a dream...how else do you get out of a rut?"
For 1.1% of the populationabout 3 million peoplegambling is an addiction from which they cannot escape. A game of chance to them is what a drink is to an alcoholic. Another 2-3% of the population are what is known as problem gamblers; they aren't technically addicted, but continue to lose vast sums of money, as is the case with William Bennett.
Despite the reasons, people gamble because they believe the "get rich quick" lie. The gambling explosion simply reveals the compelling instability, frustration and boredom of people who find an inner and irresistible urge to risk losing what they already have. Gambling's source of strength is the utter bankruptcy of our society and institutions to face reality and systematically overcome the wretched problems of our day.
Simply put, gambling's cause is the tragic wretched failure of man in every area of life. Normalcy is willingly sacrificed on the altar of fantasywinning the "big one." The almighty dollar is first and foremost, and, despite what history, the actuaries, or the Bible says, immediate momentary income is better than careful plans for a stable future. The gambling epidemic is one of the most stunning illustrations showing that man is a hopeless sinner and cut adrift from the spiritual, moral and economic laws of the Bible.
The cost of gambling goes beyond the billions of dollars in financial losses that gamblers incur.
Whenever the state authorizes a known danger, it is going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. One expert estimated that for every $1 the state receives in gambling revenues, it costs the state at least $3 in increased criminal justice, social welfare and other expenses.
A 2003 study on the Social Costs of Gambling offered troubling findings. Problem gamblers often pass bad checks or resort to theft when their funds run out. They miss work, are less productive when they are there, and often end up on unemployment. Some ultimately end up on welfare. They often need costly treatment for their addiction. The report calculated the annual cost to society, including these areas as well as the courts and the criminal justice system, at $19,085 per problem gambler. Multiply that times 4-6 million people! Add to that the resulting emotional devastation to the families of compulsive gamblers.
There is also a cost in moral sensitivity. Think of an entire generation drenched with the fraudulent advertising of get-rich schemes legitimized by official state advertising. Lottery games are even touted as the perfect Mother's Day gift! Legitimate gambling starts out as a cute baby, becomes a rebellious teenager, and finally a tyrannical adult leading to crippled old age.
Apparently, truth in advertising doesn't apply when a state wants to sell its noble ways of aiding education, helping welfare recipients and subsidizing the elderly. The typical lottery player spends $100 per year on the game. Most lottery tickets are bought in low-income and ethnic neighborhoods, which means that there is an inequity in who has provided the funds that are raised for education.
A Maryland politician said that "gaming has a tendency to absorb disposable income, especially from the poor." He said it was "like a tax on the lower socio-economic classes and a drain on the retail economy." And people complain about taxes! If lotteries were doing what they are supposed to do, why are so many states still in financial trouble?
What message are state lotteries sending to the very children they are supposedly designed to help? How many of those children will sacrifice their education when they become compulsive gamblers after buying their first state-sanctioned lottery ticket?
A British author once stated, "Men prefer any load of infamy, however great, to any load of taxation, however light." Our citizens have exchanged one agonizing economic fact of fiscal life for a supreme method of waste and chaos. Apparently, modern man is so sick, he can't recognize that the cure is even worse than the disease.
First of all, gambling is epidemic. Only Utah and Hawaii have no legalized gambling. Casinos operate in 31 states. Between 1990-2000, the total casino gross revenues increased from $8.3 billion to $24.4 billion. There are over 300 Indian gaming establishments with revenue in 2001 of $12.7 billion. Over 55 riverboat companies in six states offer casino gaming facilities with an estimated $3.2 billion in revenues.
Legal gambling has moved into pro and college sports. One can bet on just about every sport: football, soccer, basketball, hockey, baseball, golf, tennis, boxing, auto racing and horse racing. The explosive growth of college sports gambling and sports wagering-related cases threatens the integrity of college sports, according to the NCAA.
States are in such financial trouble that many are considering the expansion of gambling. "The states have teased around with this before," said a casino industry consultant. "But they have never been as serious as now because they have never had the problems they have now. Before, states taxed gambling to discourage it. Now, they're taxing gambling to make money on it."
Because gambling's thrill wears off without bigger and better jackpots, states have joined together so that more people will play for a bigger prize and thereby increase revenue. The first multi-state lottery game was created in 1988. People are willing to sit in traffic jams and stand in line for hours for a chance at winning the big jackpot. PowerBall, touted as "America's Game," is a 26-state lottery with odds of winning the Grand Prize at 1 in over 120,000,000 (as of this writing). Mega Millions, a 10-state lottery with odds of winning at 1 in over 135,000,000, made headlines in May 2000 when it offered the largest jackpot ($363 million) in North American history.
The Internet has changed the way people gambleone need never even leave home. A simple click transports you to sports books and casinos all over the web. There's even an Electronic Gaming Commission to protect online gamblers from fraud and deceptive advertisers.
When we first published a commentary on gambling in 1976, I wrote, "I predict that the government will be spending large amounts to study the compulsive gambler not as a sinner, but as having contracted a treatable disease." Sadly, I was right.
As stated previously, an estimated 1.1% of the adult population in the United States and Canada are pathological gamblers, and the problem is an alarming one among adolescents. About 6% of American adolescents are already addicted to gambling. An entire generation is growing up morally insensitive to the hazards of gambling.
Congress created the National Gambling Impact Study Commission in 1997 to conduct a comprehensive study of the social and economic impacts of gambling in the United States. In the private sector, the National Center for Responsible Gaming has awarded $3.7 million in research grants since 1996 and an additional $2.3 million to establish the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Harvard Medical School's Division on Addictions. The National Council on Problem Gambling was founded to increase public awareness of pathological gambling and has chapters in 34 states. There are more than 45 meetings of Gamblers Anonymous each week in New Jersey alone.
Gambling increases the potential for corruption and fraud both privately and in government. The possibility of cheating in gambling is limited only by the human imagination.
Gambling can be a cause of all sorts of moral, societal and economic ills including divorce, poverty, domestic violence, suicide and higher crime rates. Studies have shown that prostitution, drugs and crime soon follow the arrival of a casino.
Sadly, gambling has even infected the church. When gambling was illegal, it was kept alive by churches whose halls should have been for the preaching of the Gospel and whose expenses should have been paid by tithes and offerings. Bingo is now a staple of some church schedules and their people. The problem is most often seen in the Catholic church. One study found that Catholics were more likely to gamble than Protestants and other religious groups. Catholics were also found to be less likely to disapprove of gambling than other religious groups. In fact, William Bennett said he learned to gamble when he was growing up in the Catholic church.
This shows the failure of the church to feed its people the truth of God's Word. It is almost comical that some churches cry against state lotteries because it shows fiscal irresponsibility when they raise money this way because of their own spiritual irresponsibility.
The principles of Christian living outlined in God's Word fly in the face of the gambling philosophy. Some might argue that life itself is a gamble. In a sense, much of life involves taking a risk, but that is not at all the same thing. Gambling involves getting something for nothing with no personal growth or social gain. The gain of the winner is always at someone else's expense.
No Christian should gamble even one cent. It is poor stewardship of what God has provided and promotes false principles for living and financial management.
Although there is no specific verse in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt not gamble," numerous texts address principles that have a bearing on this issue.
The Christian life is not blind chance; it is God's choice. There is no such thing as "luck" in the plan of God. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) "For we walk by faith, not by sight." (II Corinthians 5:7)
We are to trust God to meet our needs. "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:26, 30, 33)
We are not to seek riches simply for monetary gain. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19-20)
Monetary greed results in other forms of harm. "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows". (I Timothy 6:9,10). The love of money is at the heart of gambling!
Monetary greed leads to family troubles. "He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house." (Proverbs 15:27)
Our focus should be on the things of God, not material possessions. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:20) "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." (Col. 3:1-4)
Cheerful and generous giving to God's work leads to financial sufficiency. "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work." (II Corinthians 9:6, 8)
Even legal gambling resorts to misrepresentation and deceit. Jesus called Satan the father of lies (John 8:44). God's Word commands, "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another." (Leviticus 19:13)
We are to wisely invest what God has given us. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Christ taught that we will be called to give an account of what God has given us, and that includes our money. Those who do not invest wisely show themselves unworthy of further blessings. Gambling takes money away from legitimate needs for a "chance" at greater wealth. The prophet Isaiah asked, "Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy?" (Isaiah 55:2)
Wealth achieved through deceitful means does not last. "Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase." (Proverbs 13:11). Gambling is often fraught with deceit and fraud.
Honest work is the biblical model (Genesis 2:15, Exodus 20:9) and enables us to provide for the needs of others (Proverbs 31, II Thessalonians 3:10). Gambling leads to a mindset that wealth can be achieved with no effort.
We are to live with the welfare of others in mind. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceitLet each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3, 4) Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:31). For one to win at gambling, someone else must lose.
God's word warns against mistreating the poor and vulnerable in societythose gambling hurts the most. "He who oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he who gives to the rich will surely come to poverty." (Proverbs 22:16) "Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor." (Zechariah 7:10a)
Our actions affect others. "For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself." Gambling can cause the stumbling of a weaker brother (I Corinthians 8) and affects our testimony before the unsaved. (Romans 14:7) "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." (I Corinthians 10:30-31)
We are not to covet what others have. Gambling is covetingan attempt to gain others' money without providing anything in return. God specifically prohibits coveting in Exodus 20:16, and Christ warned against it. "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15)
Government should protect the welfare of its citizens. "For he (the government authority) is God's minister to you for good for he isan avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." (Romans 13:4) By sponsoring gambling, the state is condoning and promoting all sorts of evilthe very things it was designed to protect us from.
Gamblers end up with empty hearts and empty pocketbooks and all of the troubles that come as a result. The only cure for the gambling mess is personal regeneration by saving faith in Jesus Christ. He is the reality that the empty, frustrated gambler seeks.
We have developed a perverted society crazed by false hopes of instant success bowing at the shrine of "Lady Luck." A casino owner admits, "All the praying in the world isn't gonna change your luck," yet people keep going back on the misguided notion that this will be the time they strike it rich and they will live happily ever after.
This chancy nonsense is carried over into the view of eternity, and some people are gambling with their souls. Too often we hear, "I'II take my chances." There is no such thing as chance in salvation! We get to Heaven by choice not by chance. You either believe and receive Christ, making a conscious reasonable decision, or you disbelieve Jesus Christ and refuse Him. To do nothing is not chanceit is choice.
Jesus Christ will save you if you trust Him. He has dealt with the terrible odds against us and, in careful calculation, came and died on the cross so we may have salvation as a gift. Invite Jesus Christ into your heart in simple faith. Pray the sinner's prayer, "God be merciful to me the sinner" (Luke 18:13). Romans 10:13 promises that "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Salvation in Jesus Christ provides both an immediate cure and eventual prevention. A personal faith in Christ brings us in a right relationship with God, gives us a love for His Word and restructures our lifestyle. As a result, we trust God to meet our needs and we work hard and invest wisely rather than fostering waste and sorrow.
Regardless of whether you are a gambler or not, don't trifle with your eternal destiny! Receive Jesus Christ into your life. It is necessary for salvation, and it is a blessing for society.
Scripture verses are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, © 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.