The Pernicious Nature of Gambling

May 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Christian Life

Over the last twenty years, the growth of the gambling industry has been staggering.  Increasingly, more and more states are legalizing all forms of gambling.  It is on several Indian reservations and the respective states are now utterly dependent on revenue from some form of gambling.  The gambling industry is a huge, worldwide business.  According to The Economist, in 2009, the total revenue from gambling worldwide was $335 billion.  That percentage total breaks down as follows:

  • Casinos–31.2%
  • Sports betting–5%
  • Bingo, etc.–5.4%
  • Lottery products–29.6%
  • Non-casino gaming machines–21.6%
  • Horseracing–7.2%

The same magazine makes this insightful comment:  “The odds of winning the jackpot in America’s richest lottery, Mega Millions, are one in 176 million.  Euro Millions, available to players in nine western European countries, offers slightly better odds:  one in 76 million.  Roulette players, on average, will hit their number once in 36 or 37 attempts.  Poker players’ chances of being dealt a royal flush are much the same as being struck by lightning.”  Despite such overwhelming odds, Americans still gamble and are doing so at stunning rates.  Further, government is now involved in state-sponsored gambling as a matter of public policy.

What is the case against gambling?  How can we as Christians be good citizens and expose the pernicious nature of this growing pastime for Americans?

  • First of all, a few thoughts on gambling as a goal of public policy.  It seems to me that immoral means have never led to moral ends.  We are no longer skimming the profits from a criminal activity—we are putting the full force of government into the promotion of moral corruption.  Quite frankly, gambling promotion has become a key to states balancing their respective budgets.  But it is wrong for the state to exploit the weakness of its citizens just to balance the budget.  It is the most unfair and painful form of “painless” taxation.  The money is not coming from a few big bookies but from the pockets of millions of its citizens.  The states have become as hooked on gambling as a source of revenue as any compulsive gambler betting the milk money.  Gambling feeds a get-rich-quick illusion that debilitates society, and thereby causes individual ruin, despair and suicide.  Therefore, gambling corrupts the state and its citizens that both seek “a piece of the action.”
  • Second, how does state-approved gambling impact people’s lives?
  1. Legalized gambling sidetracks a great deal of money.  The amounts that people spend on gambling equals or exceeds the total amount given to religious organizations and/or the total amount spent on elementary and secondary education.
  2. Legalized gambling handicaps a lot of people.  The number of compulsive gamblers in the US is about 5 to 7% of the population.  Gambling behavior is usually associated with poverty, marital strife, job loss, homelessness and hunger.
  3. Legalized gambling victimizes vulnerable members of society—women, youth and ethnic minorities.
  4. State-sponsored gambling also seems to break down the resistance of people who would not otherwise gamble.  Gambling addiction has risen precipitously since legalized gambling began several decades ago.
  5. State-sponsored gambling has promoted materialism and the fantasy of a life of luxury without labor.
  • Third, it is difficult to fit gambling into a Christian worldview.  There are several reasons:
  1. Gambling encourages the sin of greed and covetousness.
  2. Gambling promotes the mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God.
  3. Gambling undermines absolute dependence on God for His provision.
  4. Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work.
  5. Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.
  6. Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor.

In short, it is difficult to view gambling—either private or state-sponsored—as a positive.  It is one of the most telling signs of a civilization in dysfunction and decline, one of the more discouraging aspects of our postmodern world.  Hence, the evidence is in—gambling is another factor contributing to cultural decadence.  But it is pursued by individuals and the respective states with greater vigor and greater passion.  There is perhaps no greater sign of cultural declension that that!!

See The Economist (10 July 2010), pp. 3-5—“Special Report on Gambling”; Christianity Today (25 November 1991), pp. 16-21; and http://www.lcms.org/faqs (LCMS Views, Contemporary Issues). PDF

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