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An editorial on gambling? 

Yes, indeed. Because, as they say, “These days it is all the rage.” 

Casinos are opening all over the place (sooner or later there is bound to be one near you); lottery tickets are available as you buy your groceries or pump your fuel (and who cannot afford $2? Not much risk there); or turn on your TV on Saturday afternoons and find that networks that used to carry football games now broadcast poker tournaments—with announcers yet—turning it into a game of audience participation. I understand that cable TV has at least one channel dedicated exclusively to poker tournaments to be watched anytime day or night. And how many among us these days do not subscribe to cable? Everywhere you turn, gambling seems to be the entertainment interest of the day. 

I suppose it should not surprise us, not in days of affluence, when money is easy to come by—throw a little there, lose a little here, and who is hurt? Still plenty left for bills, the collection plate, and tuition besides. And with affluence comes free time, and with free time, boredom. What to do? Put some money on the table, risk a chunk of what you have, and suddenly the game takes on new interest. Now there is some risk involved, a little suspense, a little adrenalin flow. One has something to lose, or something to gain. And now a basically meaningless game and mere passage of time suddenly mean something. One is hooked. It is difficult to go back to life with no risk, with little suspense. How boring. Shuffle the cards, deal them again. I am sure I can recoup my loss. 

You have heard of the “curse of affluence”? Well, the upsurge in participation in gambling is a manifestation of it, without a doubt. 

The question is, is it affecting us? 

I am inclined to say, “You bet it is,” but maybe it would be more appropriate to say, “Without a doubt.” And hence this article—to have us look once again at something that our grandparents viewed as the temptation of the Devil himself, that for which they had a healthy fear, which healthy fear I fear we may well be losing. And if we do, a certain “perspective” will not be the only thing we stand to lose, but a lot, lot more. 

There was a time when our old Dutch forbears would not even allow “playing cards” into the house. They had a name for them, “devil cards.” They associated them with one thing, games of chance that invariably involved money—the means of trade of professional card sharks who used their tricks to bilk the ‘simple’ out of their hard earned wages and then send them home with little more than the clothes on their backs. And because the temptation would be to use these cards to the same end once you had them in the house and developed cleverness of mind, keeping one’s distance from them was the policy they preferred. 

We are way beyond that—”devil cards” indeed! Games involving cards, even “playing cards,” are common in our circles—to be used innocently to pass the time. And in itself, we might argue, certainly not wrong, no more so than playing dominoes, as long as that’s all it is—a friendly game. 

And yet, maybe those old forbears were on to something when they put card playing (games of chance) in the category of dancing and worldly entertainment. And, in these days when gambling and games of chance are all the rage, maybe it is time we reconsider their fears and reexamine ourselves as well. 

We raise all this because reports filter in that more and more, for Christian young people and couples, the card game of choice is poker (with its variety of styles), and not ‘just’ with poker chips (worrisome enough in itself), but for money. What fun is it if there is nothing to lose? First, of course, just those loose coins everybody has sitting around in some jar or other. Yes, and then what? Dollar bills, and in time, what size those? Just how common is this mentality becoming among our own people, young and not so young? One has fears. 

And if not poker, then the endless assortment of lottery games—just a ticket or two. Who’s to know the difference? Just as long as one does not risk too much, it is harmless. So it is argued. But is it? 

What has alarmed many religious and social workers today is the hard evidence of this troubling rise in gambling—not only in society at large, but amongst the youth in particular. An article entitled Gambling—You Bet Your Life, written by The Counseling and Mental Health Center of the University of Texas, reports that a study conducted by Time Magazine indicated that

. . . there are nearly eight million compulsive gamblers in America, one million of whom are teenagers. An Illinois criminal justice professor found eight times as many gambling addicts among college students as among adults. Closer to home, a study by the Texas Council of Problem and Compulsive Gambling found that teenagers and young adults are at much greater risk for developing serious gambling problems than are adults.

We are speaking here of an addiction as real and powerful as addictions to alcohol, to drugs, and to pornography itself. Reason for concern I say, especially when money has been easy to come by, when everywhere one turns, lotteries and gambling are being promoted—legalized by the government, no less, and when one can justify losing a bit of money here and there, because, supposedly, it will not affect one’s ability to support what needs to be supported anyway. 

The state itself has decided to promote gambling. It aids and abets the industry in the interests of raising revenues in a supposedly painless way. Instead of increasing taxes, just legalize gambling and make money off licensing and taking in a hefty percentage of the winnings. And it is all justified in the name of benefiting from excess money that so many have and would spend on other entertainment anyway. Why not direct it to the coffers of the state, under whose supervision everything will be clean and safe, and even be put to a good use—public education, for instance? 

However, to justify gambling in the name of being harmless entertainment rings hollow. Study after study has shown that in areas where casinos have been built not only does crime escalate and prostitution increase, but so do bankruptcy and divorce rates, as do the number of suicides. In an article entitledGambling, Kirby Anderson of Probe Ministries underscored this:

The social impact of gambling is often hidden from the citizens who decide to participate in legalized gambling. But later these costs show up in the shattered lives of individuals and their families. Psychologist Julian Faber warns, “No one knows the social costs of gambling or how many players will become addicted . . . the states are experimenting with the minds of people on a massive scale.” Families are torn apart by strife, divorce, and bankruptcy. Boydon Cole and Sidney Margolius in their book, When You Gamble—You Risk More Than Your Money, conclude: “There is no doubt of the destructive effects of gambling on the family life. The corrosive effects of gambling attack both the white-collar and blue-collar families with equal vigor.”

Note the phrase, “the destructive effects of gambling.” Its destructive effects upon communities and the family are well documented. Such consideration all by itself should dissuade any serious-minded believer from attempting to justify gambling in any shape or form, be it wagers large or small. The evidence is clear, God’s judgment rests upon the practice. 

The state and its social workers would like us to believe that gambling is evil only if it gets out of hand, if one becomes addicted, what they call a “compulsive gambler.” Otherwise, it is innocent entertainment. 

But the state is wrong. Gambling in all its forms is of the Evil One, and is sin against God. Let’s be clear about that. 

In the first place, gambling is theft. For a Christian it amounts to a steward betraying his Master’s trust. Everything we have is God’s (down to those coins in the cookie jar), given to us with His kingdom in mind. God does not loan us His goods so that we can put them at risk to be lost at the turn of a card or the tearing open of a ticket selected at random. On the judgment day we will have to give account of what we did with the goods He gave us, and for how we used them. Somehow I have a hard time imagining that telling the Lord we squandered at the gaming tables such and such an amount of His goods because we needed a little excitement in our boring lives is going to be acceptable. Bored with life? As a Christian? How can that be? Find some useful Christian service to engage in. There are plenty of cries for help, opportunities for giving rather than taking. 

And do not think that arguing, “But I didn’t lose, I won!” is an improvement. Not only was the mere willingness to risk the Lord’s money at the gaming table an audacity, but for you to have won, others had to lose. And God is going to be pleased with our taking that which was not theirs to be wagering in the first place? 

Secondly, gambling involves a trifling with God’s sovereignty and providence. The world may talk all it wants about good or bad luck, but we know very well that it is God who controls all things—according to Scripture, the casting of the dice themselves. And so we proceed in the hope that God will use His sovereignty for my financial gain by means of a foolish game of chance—a believer willing to use God’s sovereign providence so that self may be enriched—and that, mind you, at the expense of the neighbor, those who played and lost, whose loss I hope God will make my gain. And often what men lose is much, much more than they can afford. Is it to be imagined that others pocketing such a loss is counted by the Lord as lawful gain? 

And let no one argue, “But I took money from the state, or a gaming house, institutions that can afford it.” Where do you suppose their money came from? Where else but from the fools who gambled it away, which money was never theirs to begin with, and some now destitute as a result. 

And thirdly, gambling and the lottery is governed by a spirit of covetousness. What one has is not enough. One wants more, the jackpot at stake. But one wants it without having to work for it. One hopes to gain something for nothing as it were, or for as little as possible. Instead of being content with what one has, or laboring to earn one’s living, one hopes for wealth by some turn of chance, some good fortune, a lucky draw. It is the language of idolatry, not of the Christian faith. 

And do not discount this covetousness inherent in every man’s nature. The state does not. It is exactly this knowledge that has prompted the state to legalize gambling, to enter the lottery business, and prey upon its own citizens. The state is counting on this aspect of human nature, expecting to use it to its own financial advantage. It knows greed and covetousness will prevail and will bring millions of dollars into its coffers. If even the godless state knows the power of this side of human nature, we should more so. Instead of playing with this fire, we must flee it, like Lot fleeing the cities of the plain. 

The words of the apostle are always timely: “For 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” (I Tim. 6:10).