The Great Illusion
I want to talk about the poor man's vice, gambling. I call it this because the rich rarely gamble because they know it leads to poverty. There are many forms of gambling and so many issues related to this activity that one chapter could not possibly do justice to this topic. So, I've decided to simplify things and break the lesson down to two parts:
- I will briefly talk about internet gambling – the newest approach to gaming.
- I will finish with a reminder and summary of what the Bible teaches us concerning this behavior.
I will also share some of my personal experiences with gambling in my own family.
When I searched on the internet back in 2001 for gambling sites, I found 800 (there may have been more) where one could gamble in various ways. Since online gambling is illegal in many places it's hard to get exact stats, however, just to demonstrate its growth, according to Americangambling.org, two thirds of the internet gaming operations are located in small Caribbean and Central American countries that provide little or no government or legal oversight/control. For example, Antigua hosts 536 sites who pay a 3% tax to the government. Everything from sports betting on amateur to professional level games, to virtual casinos offering poker, roulette, and other forms of casino type games.
Total revenues for internet gambling alone have grown from $300 million in 1998 to $2 billion dollars in 2000; over $10 billion by 2002 and growing to an incredible $70 billion in 2020.
According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, gambling on the internet is especially enticing to youth, pathological gamblers and criminals. There is no mechanism at the moment that prevents minors from using a parent's credit cards to set up accounts at gambling sites.
Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, director of addiction studies at Howard University, likens the delivery system provided by internet gambling to gamblers to the improved delivery system "crack" cocaine provided to the drug addict who was using "coke." Crack was cheaper, faster, and more powerful than the old ways of ingesting cocaine. In the same way, internet gambling is faster, the payoff is immediate, the variety of games is endless and it is brought to you in the privacy of your own home.
Of course, some may be asking themselves, "Isn't gambling illegal in the U.S. and Canada?" The answer is yes and no.
Gambling is illegal in the U.S./Canada unless it is regulated by an individual state/providence. Therefore, every state has various statutes regulating the type and extent of gambling permitted in any one place. For example, in the state of Oklahoma gambling is legal on Native American reservations.
As I said, most gambling sites on the internet are primarily based in the Caribbean and other out of the way locations and are unlicensed, untaxed and unregulated by any state or federal agency. Under existing federal law, it is still unclear if web gambling sites are legal and for this reason a push has been made to create legislation that would regulate some, and ban most other gambling sites on the internet. In the U.S., Washington has debated a bill aimed at resolving this problem.
The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (S.3322) has had mixed success in winning the approval necessary to legally stop internet gambling . It has been watered down and even its new version failed to win a 2/3 majority necessary to overcome a veto. Both the Trump administration (with Trump a former casino owner) and the present administration have not placed this issue very high on their legislative agenda, if at all.
When was the last time you read an article or speech dealing with this issue? The fight against gambling in general and internet gambling specifically is not a high-profile political issue. There have been blue ribbon panels who have studied the effects of gambling (including web gambling) on society in general and their report and recommendations were included in the "National Gambling Impact Study Commission" paper. This was a blueprint used by legislators, policy makers and social service groups to help minimize the negative impacts of gambling, not eliminate it.
The government wants to regulate gambling so it can minimize the negative (meaning costly negative effects) that always result from this activity. Governments at every level are reluctant to eliminate gambling or alcohol or marijuana today because people are going to use these products and be involved in these behaviors anyways, so why not legalize and tax them with the hope that the negative effects on the population not outweigh the benefits of financial profit in the long run.
Therefore, aside from various laws protecting minors from getting access to online gambling and restricting the advertising for gambling sites in poor neighborhoods, most of the remedial work/help provided for those who have become addicted to gambling comes from social and religious counselors, many of which are online – just like the gambling sites.One such site is
National Problem Gambling
Gambling sites recruit their customers like any other business, they advertise – by word of mouth; banner ads on various sites; cross promotion on other gambling sites; email and text distribution with special offers, bonus packages and enticements. Once you're there, the game gets into your blood and before you know it, you're a customer for life. It is an addiction, just like drugs, porn or alcohol. They all work in the same manner. Gambling, however, has hundreds of locations, thousands of opportunities to gamble anonymously, easily, comfortably, endlessly or until you lose all you have. We've touched on some of the legal and social service approaches being made to deal with this growing problem/addiction.
Let us now examine what the Scripture teaches about gambling.
It would be so much easier to talk and decide what we should do about gambling if the Bible simply said, "Thou shall not gamble."
This would be cut and dried, an unarguable position for all to see. The only choice would be to obey or disobey.
Unfortunately, the Bible rarely mentions the word gamble or gambling and does not have any references to horse racing and casinos or internet gaming. Of course, it does not have the words pedophile, drug addiction or spousal abuse either but that does not mean that the Bible doesn't have something to say about these types of activities.
The Bible is not simply a rule book about do's and don'ts – it is more than that. The Bible is a book that talks about the relationship that exists between God and man. How God loves and has acted towards mankind in creating a holy relationship with human beings, and how mankind has and should respond to God in that holy relationship.
One of the ways that we respond to God is by honoring Him with our lives as Christians: "You shall be holy for I am holy." I Peter 1:16; Romans 12:12.
Part of this holy living is reflected in the effect we have on society. How we impact it with our examples, our speech as well as our decisions. Thankfully, we live in a country where our decisions make a difference in what happens in society. Lincoln expressed this idea when he said that government was of the people, by the people and for the people. As Christians living in America, we have a unique responsibility. With our votes and our voices we are responsible for promoting laws and social policies that honor God, things that are good and holy.
This is where this issue of gambling of all kinds comes in. Is this culture of gambling and the government's participation in it activities that will honor God and serve the people for good?
From a Christian's perspective, I don't think so and I'd like to give you three reasons why.
Three No's in Casino
Let's use online casino gambling for our example.
1. No Luck in Casino Gambling
The big draw to gambling is that you could be the "lucky" one to win big. Others just like you have hit big and so could you! First of all, let me tell you that there is no such thing as luck. The concept of luck is a product of magic and the occult. The idea is that with special words, or special objects (a rabbit's foot, medal, lucky t-shirt, etc.) you can manipulate unseen spiritual forces to work in your favor. This is a staple idea of witchcraft.
However, as Christians, we know that all blessings come from God, whether we acknowledge this or not. There is no luck (manipulation of the spirits for our advantage) in gambling. There is simply a predetermined number of winners and losers.
- Lotteries are 1 in 1 million or more (statistically 10 million to 1 is equal to zero chance).
- The ratio is about one winner and nine losers for every ten players in casinos and horse racing.
- Sometimes the ratio is changed to attract new players, but it is never for the player's advantage.
Gambling is structured in such a way that 90% of the players lose 100% of the time. Luck has nothing to do with it and it's definitely not a blessing when 100% of the people who play in the casinos will lose 90% of the time.
Don't, therefore, believe the advertising, there is no luck when the game is programmed in such a way that 9 out of 10 people will lose 100% of the time. The advertising makes you believe in luck, but the reality is that the overwhelming odds are against you.
2. No Good in Casino Gambling
The main political argument for legalizing gambling is that the state will have additional revenue and it will contribute to lowering taxes. This is seen as a "good" thing. Gambling in any form has been proven over and over again not to benefit people in general. There is no upside to gambling. The first seventeen states to legalize gambling in the United States have reported that the net revenue generated by this activity has contributed only 7/10 of 1% to their gross state revenues. Gambling brings in some revenue but the little revenue it does bring in is not worth the problems it creates and attracts:
- Most common reason public officials are indicted in the U.S. is on gambling related charges – bribes and kickbacks.
- Gambling attracts criminals. Organized crime operates in and around gambling.
- Crime increases as gambling does. (Minnesota's crime rate went up 40% after legalized gambling came in.)
- Legalized gambling promotes more, not less private gambling. Compulsive gambling increases in white collar crime. 40% of fraud and other forms of white-collar crime are a result of compulsive gambling.
- Those hurt the most by gambling are the ones who can afford it the least – the poor.
A study done in Quebec (a province of Canada - 6.5 million population) showed that the majority of their lottery players used welfare or social security checks to buy tickets. The government was recycling its own money through gambling! Most of the money the state receives from gambling must be reinvested to regulate and police this industry. This, of course, does not include the money spent on dealing with the broken families, crimes and ruined lives that come as a result of gambling.
It is immoral for a government to promote something which encourages the worst instinct of its people (greed – easy money at the expense of others).
"Do not rob the poor because he is poor."
- Proverbs 22:22
Good government seeks the best for its people, not something that can enslave and ruin them. Gambling is not good public policy for the people, especially the weak and the poor.
3. No Such Thing as a Christian Gambler
Christians are "salt" and "light" in the world (Matthew 5:13-14). This means that we are to exemplify what is best in what we say, do and what we promote. We don't agree with and can't control everything that goes on in the world. God has not put us here to win elections or referendums or establish policy. He knew we would always be a minority in the world and as such would probably not have much political or military clout. However, God has put the church on earth to be the pillar and support of the the truth (I Timothy 3:15).
- Our job is not to win elections but to win hearts to Jesus Christ.
- Our job is not to make laws that govern the people but warn the people which laws are contrary to the law of God.
- Our job is not to accommodate the world and its activity, but to renounce ungodliness in all of its forms and live holy lives that give honor to God and a witness of faith to the world.
Christians who gamble (whether it is for a little or a lot) are like lights hidden away under a bed and salt that has no taste – useless for the purpose that God created them. Gambling, regardless of how it is dressed up:
- As entertainment – Las Vegas
- Professional Sport Betting – Bingo at the Lodge Hall
- Horse Racing – Friday night poker
is part of the world, part of the kingdom of darkness and Christians who want to honor God have no part in it and neither do they support it in any way.
I think I can speak with authority about gambling for several reasons:
1. The research on the effects of gambling on society has shown in every single instance that the negatives far outweigh the positives. History has demonstrated over and over again that gambling hurts many and profits only a few (politicians and operators).
2. The Bible describes quite clearly the lifestyle, ministry and attitude of Christians:
- winning money at games of chance
- trying to increase one's wealth at the expense of someone else's loss
- promoting a proven social ill
are not things that Christians do or support in their effort to honor God and love their fellow human beings.
I can also talk with authority on this subject because…
3. My father, Tony, was a compulsive gambler.
He did a lot of things in his life, but for the last ten years of it he was a bookie. What was ironic was that he would see people lose their money all day long by betting on horses and then with the money he made from their gambling losses, he would go play cards at night and lose it all himself! Here was a man who made (in today's dollars) $2000-$3000, per week, but because of his compulsive gambling
- - We never owned a car or a house.
- - There was never any money for vacations or college.
- - My mother had to work in order to guarantee that our rent was paid and there were adequate groceries.
On the night he died in 1962 he left the house after supper with $4,000 cash in his pocket (that's $35,000 in today's money). When he came home later that night and succumbed to a heart attack, he had no money left on him, dead at 53 years of age. My mother figured that Tony had simply had a very bad night at the poker table.
Don't get me wrong, I loved my dad, he was kind and generous, affectionate and always proud of me, but he had this thing, this gambling sickness that probably killed him and left my mother I destitute after he died. So, I will never be convinced of the good, the fun, the advantages or the morality of gambling in any of its forms.