Today the vast majority of Americans gamble.1 According to the National Gambling Impact Study released in 1999, eighty-six percent of us report having gambled at least once during our lifetime. Sixty-eight percent of Americans report having gambled at least once in the past year.2 In 1998, the latest year for which figures are available, Americans lost $50 billion dollars in legal gambling. To put that number in perspective, the president recently asked congress for $82 billion in order to conduct the war in Iraq for the next year. Americans lost over two-thirds of the annual cost of the war in Iraq at the crap tables and in the slot machines. The most outstanding fact about gambling in the United States is that over the past 25 years America has been transformed from a nation in which legalized gambling was a limited and rare phenomenon in to one in which such activity is common and growing.3 "Every prediction that the gambling market was becoming saturated has proven premature."4
Today all but two states, Hawaii and Utah, have some form of legalized gambling. Pari-mutuel betting is legal in 40 states. Lotteries have been established in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Casino gambling, once limited to Las Vegas, has spread to Atlantic City, the Mississippi Gulf coast and inland throughout the South and Midwest along the Mississippi River Waterway.5 I could almost throw a rock and hit a casino from Carthage. Perhaps the biggest boon to the gambling sector has been the proliferation of gambling through video and computer technology. The internet has made it possible to gamble 24 hours per day anywhere in the world. What once was contained by the sheer difficulty of travel and uninviting geography is now accessible to the vast majority without ever having to leave the comfort or privacy of one's home. Evil has a long reach.
Gambling is not a new problem by any means. The Greeks in Homer's time had knucklebones from sheep and goats that were marked to serve as dice. A gambling board was discovered in Crete that dates back to between 1800 and 1900 B.C. In Babylon headless arrows were used for making wagers. Children in Rome played "heads or tales" with coins.6 Gambling has been a problem for a long time, and it has been an issue that has troubled the church from its earliest days. The Jewish Talmud addresses how the gambler is unworthy to bear witness in court, 7 and the second century preacher Tertullian said: "If you say that you are a Christian when you are a dice player, you say what you are not, because you are a partner with the world."8
As more and more states have legalized more and more forms of gambling there has been an increased interest in the subject from a moral and spiritual perspective. In this article I will attempt to answer some of the questions that are raised by concerned Christians and citizens as they confront the problem. I hope to answer these questions: (1) What is gambling? (2) Is gambling a sin and where in the Bible is it condemned? (3) How can one say that buying a two dollar lottery ticket is a sin, while maintaining that such ventures as the stock market and farming are not? (4) Is gambling justified in that it is legal, provides jobs and brings in revenue for the state?
My college dictionary, published by Houghton and Mifflin (1988), defines gambling as, "to bet money on the outcome of a game or contest." It goes on to say, "to play a game of chance for stakes." Webster says, "to play a game for money or property—to bet on the uncertain outcome." The World Book Encyclopedia (1979) states:
"Gambling is betting on the outcome of a future event. Gamblers usually bet money or something else of value as a stake on the outcome they predict. When the outcome is settled, the winner collects the loser's stakes."
These sources help us identify the elements that are essential to determining a gamble. There are three basic elements in gambling. There is (a) the uncertain event that is arbitrarily determined, and (b) the stake (wager or bet) that is deliberately chanced, and (c) a winner and loser. When these three elements exist you have gam bling. If it doesn't fit this model, it is not gambling.
Some want to make every thing that involves "risk" a gamble. While the word "gamble" may be used in the broad sense of "a risk" (and the dictionaries include that use in the definitions), a mere risk is not gambling according to the threefold definition considered above. Risk is one element of gambling, but it is not the only element. We all recognize that there are "risks" involved in most of our every day activities. One takes some small amount of risk in crossing the street. However, the risks involved in crossing the street have not been arbitrar ily and deliberately determined as in the case of placing a wager on the outcome of some uncertain event. If you make it across the street you do not stand to gain at the loss of another. There has been no stake or wager placed on the outcome. However, if you were to wager $5.00 with your neighbor that you could cross the street without getting hit, you would then be gambling. This scenario has all three elements of the definition: the arbitrary selection of an uncertain outcome, a wager, a winner and a loser.
Some have tried to justify gambling by comparing it to farming and the risks involved in that enterprise. Yet, the farmer is not seeking to gain at the expense or through the loss of another. If he has a good year, all stand to benefit by that. If he doesn't, all stand to lose. Neither does buying and selling stock fit the model of gambling. When you buy stock you have bought some thing of value. It may increase or decrease in value. If that business thrives then all will benefit. Your profit is not at the expense of the other stockholders. In neither of these examples are there the three essential elements necessary to a wager or a bet. While there is some risk—the changing fortunes of doing business—there is no stake, nor a winner and a loser. However, one could use the risks involved in farming or the stock market to create a gamble just as one can use the outcome of a ball game or a horse race. If one were to bet $50.00 that the stock in a certain company will go up tomorrow, he is now gambling. If he were to wager that it will rain by a certain day in the month, he is now gambling. In these situations the three elements necessary to a gamble are present. There is: (a) the arbitrary selection of an uncertain event (the stock going up or the rain by a certain date), (b) the wager ($50.00) and (c) a winner and a loser.
Believe it or not, a few have suggested that there is no difference between gambling and buying insurance. However, when you buy insurance you are buying financial protection. The buyer and the company both gain by the purchase of the policy. The company makes a profit on the investment of the premiums collected, and the insured has his loss covered in the event that a catastrophe occurs. If no catastrophe occurs the policy holder has still received a service for premiums purchased. It may have been the ability to purchase a home or an automobile, the security of his family during an illness, or the creation of an estate at the time of death. Insurance coverage is based on mathematics and actuarial science. Rates and premiums are determined by long established trends. There is no wager, there is no arbitrary choice of an uncertain outcome—insurance agents do not issue policies covering coin tosses or lotteries—and there is no winner and loser. Again, it does not fit our definition or model for gam bling.
When one registers to win a prize at a store's grand opening or receives a prize that is given away for advertisement, he is not gambling. There is no wager and no risk mutually determined. The prize is a gift. If one enters a contest through the mails, he is not gambling; the price of the postage stamp buys the service for delivering the entry blank. If one pays an entry fee to participate in a sports league and receives a trophy at the end of the season, he is not gambling because the trophies are a part of the expenses of playing in the league and they are a gift presented by the league to recognize skill and good sportsmanship. There was no wager made and the expenses were mutually agreed upon by all the participants in the league or their representatives.
Let me also say that a gamble or wager is not determined by size or degree. Gambling is a matter of kind, not degree. It doesn't matter if it is 50¢ or $50,000. If the three elements are present, it is gambling. So, matching pennies, flipping for a coke or a dollar raffle ticket on the Ladies Auxiliary quilt is just as much gambling as buying a lottery ticket or placing a $2.00 bet on a horse race. Even the folks involved with Gamblers Anonymous recognize this truth because they urge all their members not to participate in even these simple and commonly practiced forms of gambling.
Gambling comes in many different forms. There are all sorts of games of chance that are put to use in gambling: card games, board games and sporting activities. These things may not be sinful of themselves, but when appointed as the determination of the wager they become sinful. Card games, horse races, football, elections, pitching washers, darts and where on a branch a bird may light have all been used for the purpose of wagering. The list is endless because gambling takes place anytime there is a wager made on an uncertain event. However, do not confuse the game with the wager on the outcome of the game. Domino parlors and pool halls have acquired to themselves a bad reputation not because the games are sinful, but because men have perverted their use in order to gamble. Some things have no attraction at all to the participants apart from the wagering. Who plays roulette or rolls dice for the sake of watching the ball or the die? There are no gold medals awarded at the Olympics for coin flipping. Men have invented many things just so they may wager. There is the lottery, the slot machine, and the roulette wheel. If the use fits the definition, it is gambling!
Every day in the Metropolitan newspapers and over the larger radio and television stations we see and hear deceptive advertising designed to lure us into the gambling trap. I want to comment on the horrendous odds involved and the deceptive practices that are used. As I mention these things, I want you to realize that it is our state and local governments that sponsor many of these advertisements which under any other circumstance would be regarded as fraudulent and misleading.
Here are a few facts about the odds involved in lotteries: 9
(1) The odds of winning a mega-million dollar lottery jackpot are about one chance in 40 million. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning (which is about one chance in 240,000) than you do of winning the big lottery. 10
(2) If you bought 100 tickets a week your entire adult life, from age 18 to 75, (a staggering $592,000 before compound interest) you would still only have a one in one hundred chance of winning the lottery.
(3) A person driving ten miles to buy a Lottery ticket is three times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident than he is to win the jackpot.
(4) If a car gets 25 miles per gallon, and a gallon of gas is bought for every Lotto ticket bought, there will be enough gas for about 750 round trips to the moon before the jackpot is won.
(5) If one person purchases 50 Lotto tickets each week, they will win the jackpot about once every 5,000 years.
Duke University professors Charles Clotfelter and Philip Cook identified six common tactics used in advertising state run lotteries: 11
(1) The first tactic employed is overemphasis of a winning outcome. In 70% of the television ads studied, those pictured playing the lottery won the lottery. The reality is that only 1 out of every 211 games played is a winner.12 That's a success rate of less than one-half percent! Yet, according to some ads, "Everyone's a winner."
(2) Another tactic employed by government lotteries is to design the games so as to disguise the true odds, as well as to give the impression of a greater possibility of winning. This may be done through providing multiple plays on one ticket or allowing losers to be entered in an alternative drawing.
(3) In order to build confidence in and desire to play, ads often ridicule those who are doubters. It is not a question of doubt or skepticism; it's just plain common sense. One wag put out a bumper sticker with the saying, "The lottery is a tax for people who are bad at math." I will be a millionaire long before those that play the Lotto, by saving in a 401K half of what others spend on the lottery every month.
(4) State Gaming Commissions encourage play by planting among participants the false notion that there is an element of skill in playing the lottery. Just exactly how much skill does it take to scratch and uncover the hidden number or icon? What is the skill necessary beyond counting to 56 for choosing a random combination of three, four, five or six numbers? Lottery numbers are chosen at random. It is not possible to predict a totally random event. 13 The combination 1-2-3-4-5-6 has as much chance of coming up as 45-23-1-16-37-43. There is no skill involved and no secret system to be determined that will effect a guaranteed outcome.
(5) Lotto games encourage players to minimize regret by reminding them how bad they will feel if they miss playing the game on the day when their numbers "hit." How many times have we heard, "You can't win if you don't play"? However, those same Lotto Commissioners would never authorize a commercial that encourages people to stop playing because they will feel regret if their car is repossessed or their rent is past due because they chose to spend this weeks earnings on the Super Grand Jackpot.
(6) Finally, lotteries often provide misleading information about the true odds, or they don't provide any information at all. These details are often hidden in the small print and rules that accompany the lottery. Finance companies, car dealers and magazine sales contests are held to higher standards than lottery advertisements. They at least have to have a disclaimer at the end of the ad read by an announcer that talks very fast. Yet, the state can represent its lottery as if everyone is a winner and never be brought to account.
At this point let's consider why gambling ought to be opposed and avoided by every Christian. I am opposed to gambling because whatever form it may take, whether it is the lottery, the casino game or the office football pool, it is sinful in that it violates divine principles governing a holy manner of life and divine guidelines for the acquisition and use of money or wealth.
I am opposed to gambling because it is addictive. It has an enslaving nature. Horace Levinson said, "Gamblers gamble as lovers love, as drunkards drink, inevitably, blindly, under the dictates of an irresistible force."14 The very existence of Gamblers Anonymous suggests that many are addicted. On my last trip to Shreveport to visit a cardiologist there was, across the street from his office, a large building housing psychologists and counselors whose only clients were those who had become enslaved to the gambling habit. By law, the Texas Legislature requires that a toll free number be included on all lottery tickets where those who are become enslaved to the gambling evil may contact government paid counselors to help them overcome their government sponsored and government induced addiction.15 In every state where the lottery has been introduced governments have found that the social costs of addiction and white collar crime follow and resources intended for other projects must be dedicated to cure the government created gambling problem. Each compulsive gambler costs the economy between $14,000 to just above $22,000 per year. If only two percent of the population is addicted that is an annual cost to every citizen of $140 to $220 per year, a whopping $880 per year for a family of four.16
While not all who gamble are what the majority would characterize as "out of control," the truth is that all who gamble are caught in its seductive web of thrill and anticipation for the big win. They are, whether they want to admit it or not, the slaves of gambling. The apostle Paul affirmed in 1 Corinthians chapter six and verse 12, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." Paul's words indicate that, even in those things that are right and good of themselves, the Christian cannot allow them to have power over him (1 Corinthians 6:12). While we do not grant that gambling is morally neutral, if it were, it would be something to be avoided because observation and experience have proven its addictive power. The Christian must be a person who has and maintains self-control. Peter said in his second epistle, chapter one verses five and six, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith…self control…" Since gambling erodes self control which is included in the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Christian will abstain from gambling (Galatians 5:23).
I am opposed to gambling because it is a means to covetousness which is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Gambling involves an inordinate desire to have what belongs to someone else. This is the sole motive for wagering. Those who gamble do not do so in order to imitate Christ who said it is "More blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Rather, the gambler wagers so that he may take from some one else. Granted, he may have to forfeit his wager, but he does not do so in imitation of the spirit of Christ as giving a gift.
I have personally tested this many times. And, I must admit I was somewhat skeptical and facetious in the administration of this test. Having to wait in line while others buy lottery tickets is not my favorite pass-time. While waiting, I will ask the gamblers in the line if they are interested in a sure thing rather than the 14 million to one long shot they are pursuing. Most are interested, but I have never had any takers once I explain the proposition. I usually ask the bettor to give me what he is going to wager on the lottery and I will in turn give him half of it back. About this time I get a puzzled look. I then explain that by giving me half and receiving half back again for themselves that we are both ahead and better off. He has helped me and I have helped him. As I mentioned, I haven't had any takers, but I haven't had anybody prove me wrong yet, especially, when they walk out with nothing but a handful of worthless paper. Those who gamble do so with the vain expectation of taking part or all of the wagers made by the other bettors. If they were trying to help people through giving, they would mail a check to the Tsunami Relief Fund. No, men are not trying to be a blessing to anyone by wagering.
If we would have a life hidden in Christ we must put off covetousness (Colossians 3:5). Paul said, "The love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10). We cannot follow Jesus while we sit at the gaming tables or stand in the Lotto lines. The covetousness which motivates gambling destroys faith in Christ and deludes us to trust in the "Fates of Fortune" (Isaiah 65:11). The gambler does not trust in Christ to provide all that his needs (see: Matthew 6:19-34), but has given himself up to the spirit of greed to worship at the altar of "Lady Luck" where he lays his sacrifice on gaming table in hopes that she will return it to him a hundred fold. Is it any wonder that Paul calls covetousness "idolatry" (Ephesians 5:5)?
The Christian should abstain from gambling in every form because it is contrary to the Golden Rule, which is the Rule of Love (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8). The gambler really doesn't love those with whom he gambles because he is willing to take all that they have if the game of chance turns in his favor. As far as he is concerned if such is the case, well, it's just the loser's tough luck! However, Jesus said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 22:39). He built His Kingdom on this foundation principle of righteousness: "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31). No gambler wants to lose and be taken; yet, he is willing to do that to others. How then can one claim to be serving Christ while seeking to take from another?
Actually, gambling is nothing more than stealing by mutual consent. You may ask, "How can it be stealing if there is consent?" Well, gambling is stealing in the same way that dueling is murder. Just because the two parties agree to kill each other does not create a moral reason which justifies the taking of life. It is not self-defense. It is not an accident. It is vengeance, and, therefore, murder. Similarly, just because to parties agree to take what belongs to the other does not justify it. It is not wages. The random selection of a number does not earn anything. It is not a gift because it is not given; it is taken. It is not a legitimate business transaction because nothing of equal value is given in return. There is only one word that describes that kind of transfer of value; the word is theft.
Let me offer another comment on this idea of stealing. Not only does the gambler steal from his fellow-bettor when he collects the stakes, but he is stealing from his family and neighbors by his covetous ways. That money which you win or lose in gambling is taking food, clothing and shelter from either your family or someone else's. Statistics show that it is those who can least afford to gamble that do so.17 The poorest families, on average, wager twice that of any other income bracket in the United States. Where gambling proliferates welfare rolls increase, children's services departments more than double their number of juveniles needing care, employee theft, bankruptcy, debt delinquency all rise. Habitual gamers are stealing from their families, their employers and their neighbors through the increased economic and social costs of their behavior.
Our last objection suggests this next one. Christians ought to abstain from gambling because it violates every biblical principle that governs fair exchange. The Bible authorizes three means for the transfer of property. These are: (1) earning wages, (2) fair exchange through legitimate commerce and (3) gifting.
The Bible has much to say about working for a living (Ephesians 4:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:10, 12; Matthew 10:10; 20:1-15; 2 Corinthians 11:8, 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; Luke 10:7). Among the things said is this, "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7). "Wages" are earned as the satisfaction of a contract for labor. Jesus illustrated this principle in the parable of The Eleventh Hour Workers found in Matthew chapter 20. Jesus describes the husbandman as seeking workers in the market place. Having found some He says, "And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (v. 2). At the end of the day the husbandman settled with the workers receiving what they had agreed upon that morning. Having paid what each was promised the husbandman said, "Take what is yours and go your way" (v. 14). The husbandman had received their labor and they their wage, a fair exchange was made. However, gambling does not involve gain by labor. The gambler does not offer labor in exchange for what he receives. He does not earn it any more than the thief earns what he takes. His labor, thought and expenses are used in his own interests and not that of his fellow gamblers. If he receives anything, it is not in consideration of his effort but rather in consideration of his stake and the outcome of the game of chance. There is no value in guessing the right number on a roulette wheel or drawing a series of cards that total 21 points.
The Bible also has a lot to say about fair exchange through commerce (Matthew 13:44-45; Acts 16:14; Luke 22:36; Acts 4:32-37). A principle that has always governed the people of God is "Thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have" (Deuteronomy 25:15). God expects men to deal fairly with one another in trade. The standard which God approves is expressed by Jesus in Luke chapter six at verse 38: "Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over." God held in contempt the wicked who gave "the scant measure" (Micah 6:10-11). Thus, God is pleased when men through barter or sale exchange commodities fairly and justly. However, gambling does not involve a fair exchange of one thing for another of equal value. In a wager everyone puts up an equal stake, that is true, but only one walks away with everything, the winner gets several times more than his fair value and the losers get nothing.
Finally, one may transfer ownership of property or bestow wealth through a gift. As noted earlier Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). God, Himself, is the Great Giver, and we are to follow His wonderful example. The blessing in giving is the ability to give and not needing to receive. I have lived long enough to have benefited from the generosity of some and to have been able to be a blessing to others when they needed me. I am truly grateful to those wonderful saints that have helped us out on those occasions when we needed them. While we were blessed by receiving I assure you they know, as I do, that the greater blessing is in giving. First of all, just the simple ability to give is a blessing. Being able to give means the giver has enough and to spare (Ephesians 4:28). It means he is independent (Proverbs 30:8). It indicates that he is either still able to work or has been blessed with good health and fair days in sufficient quantity that he need not be concerned about the future (Matthew 6:33-34). It means the giver has learned contentment and has put away covetousness (Hebrews 13:5). It is an indication that he has learned the greatest of all principles in following Christ not to look upon his own things but the things of others (Philippians 2:1-5). What a blessing that man is. Gambling is incompatible with the example of Christ and the spirit of a giver (2 Corinthians 8:9). In order to be the kind of giver God wants our hand must be open and not clutching and grabbing for more and more at the gambling tables (2 Corinthians 9:7). One of the stories which we all rejoice in hearing and telling is that of Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8; Mark 14:3-9). This dear woman brought to Jesus a very expensive gift of ointment. She lavished it upon him all at once anointing her head and feet. While there were some among the disciples, most notably Judas that criticized here extreme generosity, the Lord was well pleased with her gift and said she would always be remembered in the telling of the Gospel for it. So today, her gift of love is remembered and held up as an example of true gift giving. How any gambler can hear it and not blush in shame is beyond me.
The gambler wastes and squanders what he has. Most gamblers are losers. Stu Ungar was a three time world poker champion and world class gin-rummy player. In poker championships alone, Ungar won $2,081,478. He was second on the all-time money list. 18 He went from being broke to a millionaire (and broke again) at least four times.19 In the thirty years that he gambled he won and lost over ten million dollars. In one weekend Ungar managed to win a million dollars playing poker while at the same time losing nearly two million dollars on horse races. Stu Ungar died alone in a motel room at the age of 42, sick, addicted to cocaine and broke. Sadly, the example of Stu Ungar is not the exception; it is the rule.
Americans wager away over 50 billion dollars per year at the casinos and other gambling venues. Think of how much good could be done with that money! We must recognize that nothing we possess is truly ours; rather, it is a stewardship from God.
It is a n undeniable spiritual truth that God gives and empowers to obtain. The wise man, Solomon said, "Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God" (Ecclesiastes 5:19). That which we possess belongs to God; it is as David recognized, "The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them" (Psalm 89:11). This being true our relationship to the things we possess is that of stewards and not owners. As stewards we must be faithful in the use of the things committed to our trust. We do not have the right to squander our Master's goods either in wasteful consumption on ourselves (Luke 12:45) or through careless use (Luke 16:1) or idleness (Luke 19:20-23). The Lord expects us to be faithful stewards of the things with which we have been blessed. As Peter said, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever" (1 Peter 4:10-11). God expects those that have been blessed of Him to in turn be a blessing to others (Acts 20:35; 1 John 3:17). The rich are to be "rich in good works" (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Think about it for a moment, say it were possible for you to give a neighbor a ten thousand dollars with the just this proviso: "Do good" (cf. Psalm 37:27). How would you feel if that neighbor took the money and headed straight for the casino or the lottery window? Imagine how God must feel when he sees those He has blessed in this wonderful nation of ours squandering their wealth in pursuit of covetousness.
Jesus said in Matthew chapter seven beginning at verse 17, "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Jesus says the tree is known by its fruits. A good tree brings forth good fruit and a corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit. Furthermore, the corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.
When we talk about the gambling evil, there are always those in the government and the public sector seeking to justify an alliance between the State and the Gambling Lobby on the basis of all the "good" that gambling will do for the community. However, as we have already shown, gambling is inherently evil. Therefore, the industry which promotes it must also be evil, and anything that joins itself to it will of necessity become corrupted. As Jesus said, the corrupt tree cannot bear good fruit. Whatever apparent benefits are derived from the casinos, racetracks and lotteries are superficial and without real value.
Perhaps the best proof of the evil nature of gambling is the broken homes and wrecked lives made. These are common every day stories in communities that have invited the casinos with their slots and blackjack tables.
(1) According to the Las Vegas Sun a small-business owner returned home to Michigan from a trip to the Strip's MGM Grand where he allegedly killed his pregnant wife and three children all under seven years old before turning the gun on himself. In his home, police found a suicide note blaming gambling addiction and $225,000 in shredded casino markers. His business was $500,000 in debt because he had withdrawn the money to cover his gambling habit.
(2) The LA Times reported that a retired Illinois couple committed suicide after the wife, an obsessive gambler, saddled the couple with a monstrous debt. Undone by a ravenous habit that cost them $200,000, a house, a nest egg. The couple in their middle sixties chose death in order to escape from the gambling habit.
(3) A Florida man drained his $17,000 bank account in 11 days. He made $600 daily ATM withdrawals as often as three times a day and maxed out his credit cards that put him $72,000 in debt. A pawn shop ticket proves he hocked the last of his things, among them family keepsakes. All activity stopped on his credit cards and bank statements a little over two months later in Las Vegas—about the same time a man's body matching his description turned up in the desert, dead from a .357-caliber gunshot wound in the head.
(4) According to the Detroit Free Press a gambler losing large amounts of money in the high-roller area of the Motor City Casino in Detroit pulled out a gun, shot himself in the head and died. At the time, he had been playing double hands at $500 per hand. That night he lost $10,000. 20
There can be no doubting that gambling is a wicked and evil influence in our culture. I recognize that not everyone who gambles will commit suicide or murder. Not all who gamble will plunge themselves into inescapable debt. Neither does all the blame lie with the casino owners or the state lotteries; these unfortunate souls were accountable for their bad choices and uncontrolled behavior. However, when there is so much evidence of the human wreckage associated with gambling why would any just society want to encourage the spread of such an evil?
Statistics indicate that following the introduction of gambling into a region there is increased crime, increased divorce, increased bankruptcy, increased poverty and increased illegal gambling activity. 21 In Nevada where gambling has been legal the longest the facts indicate that it is (1) the most dangerous state in the Union in which to live; (2) it has the highest suicide rate of any state; (3) it has double the national rate of divorces; (4) there are more women killed by men in Nevada than any other state; (5) it is first in gambling addictions, and rates in the top three for (6) high school dropouts, (7) alcohol related deaths and poor mental health. It is fourth in (8) bankruptcies and (9) deaths by firearms. And, it is 47th out of 50 in voter participation. 22 Those communities that invite the casinos and racetracks increase the probability that their neighbors and their children will be adversely affected. With the increased proximity and availability of gambling comes the danger that your home will be destroyed.
Perhaps the most frightening reality when considering the corrupting influence of the gambling lobby is the influence wielded in the state house and in Washington, D.C. In the latest federal election cycle the gambling industry contributed 10.2 million dollars to candidates. 23 Senator Harry Reid, the new minority leader in the U.S. Senate is from Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun reported that the "casinos are elated over Reid's promotion." 24 The newspaper went on to report that Nevada gambling officials praised Reid as the industry's biggest supporter who can fend off "relentless attacks from the religious right." Reid has been derisively labeled "the Senator from Circus Circus." He has accepted substantial donations from the gambling lobby and associated industries, including a recent $10,000 contribution from the political action committee (PAC) funded by the Mirage and MGM Grand casinos, and $10,000 from the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC.
The ground zero of American gambling, Nevada permits and encourages nearly every form of wagering under the sun. Home to the biggest players in the business, the Silver State has been run by the Vegas gambling lobby since the days of Bugsy Siegel, the gangster who built the first casino in 1946. Today gambling is the state's largest employer, largest revenue generator, and largest investor. Gambling accounts for more than a third of all taxes paid into Nevada's general fund, giving its lobbyists huge clout in Carson City. Gambling is also the biggest campaign contributor in Nevada politics; in the 1994 elections only two candidates backed by the gambling industry lost, and in 1996 only one anointed candidate failed. 25
However, the influence of gambling is not limited to the direct effects it has on its participants. Wherever gambling goes other evils travel with it. Drunkenness, drug abuse and prostitution are all a part of the gambling culture. Bars and night clubs are used by the gambling houses to lure and keep their prey interested. The "entertainment" that is associated with these activities is peppered with foul language and lascivious behavior. Many popular American entertainers got their start and made their successful careers by entertaining in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They have been used to seduce and lure naïve men and women into the gambling dens. Many would never have been introduced to gambling if it were not for the seduction of the cheap food and entertainment available at these gambling venues.
The recent and popular advertising campaign begun by the Las Vegas casinos is indicative of the moral bankruptcy of the gambling culture. A television ad promises "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!" This slogan conjures up the image that one can leave behind all his moral phobias and Victorian prejudices and come to Las Vegas for a fun-filled, consequence free holiday of vice and license which no one will ever know about. The gambling industry entices hard working men and women to come to Sin City incognito and bite the "forbidden fruit" of anonymous sin. Sadly, some are foolhardy enough to believe it is possible. The truth is, whatever happens in Vegas goes home with you and may affect you for a lifetime.
Gambling is a terrible vice. Those who gamble run the risk of easy addiction and a lifetime of misery and want. Families are ruined, hearts are broken and lives are lost to the gambling evil. Rather, than worshipping at the altar of "Lady Luck" we need to turn to and follow King Jesus who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
(1) National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report, Chapter One: Overview, p. 1. This study is available at the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling website (http://www.ncalg.org).
(2) NGISCR, Ibid.
(6) I bid.
(7) Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Alfred Edersheim, p. 153.
(8) The actual quotation could not be found. It is reported in several sources (e.g., Money, Mania, Morals by L. Starkey Jr., p. 35). However, Tertullian's denunciation of gambling is quite clear in De Spectaculis, xvi. See: Tertullian, Apology and De Spectaculis, tr. by T. R. Glover (London, Heinemann, 1984), pp. 163, 231, 272-273.
(9) "TaTa Ma Chance," CFT Newsletter, January-March 2001 (www.cft.org.za)
(10) These odds are calculated on the basis of the estimated deaths that actually occur from lightning strikes in any given year. The odds increase to one chance in 400,000 if one considers only the actual reported instances of death by lightning (http://www.wlextv.com).
(11) Selling Hope, Charles Clotfelder and Phillip Cook, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.
(12) In2Play Lotto Systems Website (http://www.in2play.com.au/Understand.htm).
(14) Horace C. Levinson, The Science of Chance, p. 26.
(15) "State law requires the lottery to print the gambling hotline number on the back of all tickets. The toll-free ‘800' number is established and maintained by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse." (North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries Website, www.naspl.org/index.html).
(16) Legalized Gambling, the Inside Story, National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
(17) "Perpetuating Poverty: Lotteries Prey on the Poor," Jordan Ballor, Acton Commentary; Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Grand Rapids, MI (www.acton.org).
(18) "Famed Gambler Ungar Dies at 45," Ed Koch, Las Vegas Sun, November 23, 1998, (www.lasvegassun.com).
(19) "Stu Ungar, One of the Greatest Poker Players of All Time," Casino Times, (Volume 8, Number 2, November 2004, (www.casinotimesonline.com/march/feature_stu-ungar.htm).
(20) NCALG (http://www.ncalg.org/facts.htm).
(23) "Gambling and Politics: Following the Money," Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Review-Journal (March 13, 2005); (www.reviewjournal.com).
(24) "Senate's New Majority Whip: Senator Harry Reid of Nevada," Christopher Smith, Salt Lake Tribune, June 9, 2001; (www.sltrib.com/06092001/utah/104290.htm).
(25) Mother Jones Magazine, June 9, 1997, (www.motherjones.com).=