Gambling: To play or not to play?

By LARRY BURKETT

There was a time when the word “entertainment” meant going to such places as ballparks, theaters, and amusement parks. The word “gambling” referred to playing the slot machines, card tables, and roulette wheels of Las Vegas.

But in the last three decades, the line between entertainment and gambling has faded. In fact, we could say that gambling in America now is a major form of entertainment.

With more than $550 billion in betting per year, gambling revenues exceed those of movies, spectator sports, theme parks, cruise ships, and recorded music combined. Casinos can be found in 27 states, lotteries operate in 37 states, and there is riverboat gambling along the Mississippi River.

A bad bet

As always, sin has consequences, and gambling is no exception. Proverbs 22:8 says, “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity,” and since our sowing has been so widespread, we are reaping a major harvest of suffering.

We now have 2.5 million compulsive gamblers in the U.S., according to SMR Research Corporation, a New Jersey-based consumer research company.

In Minnesota alone, the number of Gamblers Anonymous groups skyrocketed from 1 to 49 as casinos opened across the state, says Ann Geer, with the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion.

And along the Mississippi Gulf Coast there are numerous pawnshops in which desperate people exchange items for the cash they need to gamble.

People also obtain gambling money through their credit cards. Thus, it’s not surprising to find a link between gambling and bankruptcy.

SMR says the overall bankruptcy rate is 18 percent higher in the 298 U.S. counties that have legalized gambling. The rate is 35 percent higher in counties with five or more gambling outlets.

Of course, these are only a few examples of gambling’s consequences, which include suicides, broken marriages, extortion, prostitution, and drugs.

Legislatures in 14 states voted last year not to allow more gambling, but what about the huge amount of gambling already legalized in America? When I think of what it’s doing to our nation, I’m reminded of what a prophet said about Israel more than 2,000 years ago: “For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

Second time around

We are paying a heavy price for legalized gambling, but it’s not the first time our nation has had to learn this lesson.

In a speech before the U.S. Senate, Sen. Paul Simon noted that early in our nation’s history almost all states had some form of lottery. However, the consequences of lotteries led Americans to change their minds about state-sponsored gambling.

“The loose money quickly led to corruption,” Sen. Simon said, “and the states banned all forms of gambling. Illinois leaders felt so strongly about it, they put the ban into the state constitution.”

Should Christians gamble?

Of course, there are people, including state leaders, who would argue that gambling is a good thing because it provides entertainment, creates jobs, and funds education in states like Georgia.

They also might argue that other things, like fried foods and credit, are harmful when used excessively, and they would be right. Therefore, should Christians gamble if they do so in moderation?

Although it’s easy to argue against gambling from a purely secular standpoint, the primary argument against Christians gambling is spiritual.

To entice someone to gain money at the certain loss of another violates virtually every principle taught by Christ. It breeds selfishness, greed, and covetousness and, in fact, promotes them.

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

Furthermore, gambling is the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme. (1) The participants may be encouraged to risk money they can’t afford to lose. (2) They may know little or nothing about what they are doing. (3) They’re forced to make hasty decisions. (4) They operate on the greater sucker theory. In other words, when they dump money into the slot machine, they believe there was a greater sucker before them who risked his or her money and then quit just before the big jackpot.

Any get-rich-quick scheme is developed to entrap the weak and especially the poor. After all, what does a wealthy man need with a get-rich-quick scheme? Gambling is an almost irresistible enticement to people who want to meet the needs and desires of their families but find that they cannot.

So, regardless of how socially acceptable gambling has become, it’s still preying on the weaknesses of others. This runs counter to the Scriptures, which encourage us to help the weak and seek good for all men. “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

Many Christians are guilty of supporting lotteries, bingo, racing, and so forth under the assumption that gambling really doesn’t hurt anyone. That’s exactly what Satan would have us to believe.

We pass our value system along to those around us–first, to our own families, then to our friends and neighbors. If our value system is no better than the world’s in which we live, then truly we have been conformed to the image of this world.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to 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 the many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

Larry Burket was the founder of Christian Financial Concepts (now Crown Ministries).
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