Cooling Gambling Fever

By Earl Kimbrough

The alluring new Florida state lottery arrived recently with inflated fanfare. The media proclaimed it in banner headlines and pictured eager players panting like puppies expecting a bowl full of Kibbles and Bits. The first million dollar winner (a member of the church) was duly christened in a televised ceremony. All of which only shows that gambling fever is running high here, as elsewhere across the land. We may have about as much chance of cooling it down as of being an instant millionaire. But gambling is wrong in every way and sensible people, especially those led by God’s word, will have no part in it.

1. Gambling Is Wrong Economically. The St. Petersburg Times said, “The people who govern this state will try to separate you from your money in a game of chance that affords you virtually no chance. . . . You invest $1 in a lottery ticket, in hopes of winning $1 million. Your odds are one in a million, right? Wrong. Try one in 125 million. . . . For a realistic return on risk, the lottery is a farce. You are 250 times more likely to be hit by lightning.” While all gambling is a losing proposition (except for entrepreneurs), the lottery is probably the most economically depressing. It hurts most those who can least afford it. The Tampa Tribune reports that lower-income areas are apparently buying more tickets than the more affluent neighborhoods.

Even for winners, the economics are on the down side. Small winnings are squandered on more chances. And few who win big can wisely handle the windfall. Studies show that for most the golden goose soon dies and the visions of sugar plums that lured them to the lottery soon vanish in the thin air of infectious greed. A local family who won big in another state lives in a mansion it can hardly pay the taxes on.

2. Gambling Is Wrong Socially. It adversely alters the behavior of people in their dealings with one another. This is seen more in the fruit of gambling than in the act itself. It primarily preys on the foolish. John Dryden, the English poet, said,”Bets, at the first were fool-traps, where the wise, like spiders, lay in ambush for the flies.” The social ills of gambling are known to those who study it. After investigating national crime, Senator Estes Kefauver said, “Pages could be filled with examples heard by the (senate) committee of the old, familiar story of how fine citizens and family men became paupers, embezzlers, and worse because of the enticements of the gambling tables” (Crime in America, p. 125).

Gambling robs families of life’s necessities. It wastes time, money, and energy. It spawns crime. It gives false hope to the hard-pressed. Many who cannot pay the bills spend money on games of chance. “Gambling is a kind of tacit confession that those engaged therein do, in general, exceed the bounds of their respective fortunes” (Sir William Blackstone). Testifying for the State Gaming Commission before a senate committee in 1984, Gerard Fulcher said sixty-five percent of the lottery machines in Delaware are located near “the lowest socioeconomic group . . . and lest they forget what they are supposed to do with those machines, we found a doubling of advertising by the State lottery on the day the welfare checks arrive” (Gambling, Crime or Recreation, p. 83).

3. Gambling Is Wrong Morally. This moves the matter from the level of waste and folly to that of truth and right. “Moral” implies “conformity with the generally accepted standards of goodness or rightness in conduct and character.” With Christians, God’s word is the measure, rather than community attitudes. But many in the world see gambling as immoral. George Washington said, “Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.” Even the board of the National Council of Churches in 1951 reaffirmed its “vigorous opposition to all gambling as an insidious menace both to personal character and social morality.”

One moral evil of gambling is its enslaving nature. If otherwise harmless, the gambler still runs the risk of addiction. It can get a strangle hold on him. “Gamblers gamble as lovers love, as drunkards drink, inevitably, blindly, under the dictates of an irresistible force” (Horace Levinson, The Science of Chance, p. 26). Senator Kefauver said, “The fascination of gambling to many people is so strong, in my opinion, it would be complete folly to make the facilities more available than they are.” Nearly two thousand years before, Horace penned these lines in Rome: “Curst is the wretch enslaved to such a vice, who ventures life and soul upon the dice.” No one, certainly no Christian, should “chance” such a demoralizing bondage (see 1 Cor. 9:27).

But some say, “I only bet what I can afford to lose.” Or, “I gamble not for gain, but for sport.” This is like the apology for social drinking. Ben Franklin was moved to say, “Keep flax from fire, and youth from gaming (gambling).” What assurance does a gambler have that his “sport” will not lead to his child’s addiction? What assurance that it will not encourage the weak to get caught in its snare (see Rom. 14:21)? The member who gambles puts the church in an unfavorable light before those of the world who know what gambling is. He also weakens the church’s voice against worldliness of all kinds (see Rom. 2:21-24); and it is weak enough already.

4. Gambling Is Wrong Spiritually. It violates God’s will regarding material gain. There are five acceptable ways to obtain the world’s goods: work (1 Tim. 5:18), selling or exchanging value for value (Acts 5:1,4), business profit (Jas. 4:13), gifts (Acts 20:35), and inheritance (2 Cor. 12:14). Gambling is none of these. It seeks to profit at another’s expense without giving anything in return. This is true of all gambling. None wins except from another’s loss. The fact that losers are willing to risk the loss, or pool the wager to minimize it, does not lesson the evil intent of all involved.

The main cause of gambling is covetousness (Rom. 13:9). This is “greed for something another person rightfully possesses.” The word has elements of both envy and greed. The whole gambling industry rests on this sin. Richard Whately, author of Lessons on Morals, is correct in saying, “All gambling, since it implies a desire to profit at the expense of others, involves a breech of the tenth commandment. ” Christians aspire to higher motives of conduct (Col. 3:6).

The fact that every facet of gambling is wrong should be enough to cool the temptation that sometimes runs high among those, including some brethren, who dream too much about an effortless route to easy street.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 8, pp. 225, 247
April 21, 1988