We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What About Gambling?

In my last post I had a commentary about a person who claimed God gave his mother a winning lottery ticket after he prayed.  One of the comments I received questioned what the problem was with gambling which would lead me to say I didn’t believe God would work that way.  
Well, over a decade ago I did a series on Biblical Ethics for my high school Sunday School class.  The text I used was Robertson McQuilken’s, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics.  I found my outline for this course and decided to cut and paste here the section on gambling.  While my outline had much quoting from McQuilkin, I used him as my jumping-off point for my own lesson.  So here you have mostly McQuilkin’s comments extracted from that section of his book.  I tend to agree with what he says.
Gambling:
McQuilkin tells us the reason he places gambling as a subset of "social responsibility" rather than under "personal integrity" is that it is virtually impossible "to make a convincing case from Scripture against gambling as inherently sinful, but it is no difficult task at all to marshal biblical evidence against gambling as a social evil."

Biblical basis for opposition.  For the serious gambler, it is a violation of the commandment against covetousness.  Selfishness is also present in most gambling.  Kenneth Kantzer, in Christianity Today, said gambling is "an artificially contrived risk, taken for selfish gain at another's expense, with no constructive product or social good as its goal." But is gambling a sin?  Maybe not, but sin often lies at the root of gambling and sin is often the result of gambling. McQuilkin says, "Human experience indicates that even recreational gambling promotes covetousness and leads away from giving as a way of life.  It often nurtures the fantasy that luck rather than hard work is a way to prosperity.  All too often it sucks the gambler into a life of dishonesty.  Even if one should escape the common evil results, is it right for the strong to validate gambling by personal example and help create an atmosphere in which others will fall?   Seeing the practice in real life outcomes leads to the conclusion that gambling is not a legitimate part of a God-pleasing way of life."
Social effects of gambling.  There are more compulsive gamblers in America than there are “alcoholics” (drunks).  This often leads to poverty-destroyed families.  McQuilkin says, "The gambling business is dominated by the major crime syndicates.  One organized crime boss said that the syndicates could get along very well on gambling alone even without their other mainstays: narcotics and prostitution."  These should be additional reasons for Christians to avoid gambling.
State lotteries:  McQuilkin tells us that what happens in state lotteries is "the enhancement of the professional gambler's take and the increased involvement of syndicated crime because the state develops a whole new crop of gamblers.  This occurs because the novelty of a state lottery normally wears off in about one year and the state must begin major marketing to enlist new gamblers. ... The state finds itself an ally of organized crime, an exploiter of the poor, a promoter of social blight, and a loser in the gamble to make a bundle with little effort and cost. No lottery has begun to measure up to optimistic projections, and many, within a decade, have failed financially.  And who can calculate the cost to the state in the fight against organized crime and the accompanying corruption in law enforcement, not to mention the increase in welfare costs for increasing numbers of gambling losers?”
Summation:  "In the light of the way gambling has worked out in the life of the nation, it seems the most responsible position for the Christian is total abstinence, opposition to any form of church sponsored gambling, and cooperation with all people of good sense in opposing state-operated lotteries and pari-mutuel betting."

7 comments:

Marshall Art said...

Well, most of what you speak of are "sins" that have nothing to do with gambling itself. Gambling is nothing more than two or more people consenting together to risk an amount of money on a possible outcome for an agreed upon reward. We do as much living life often with as little guarantee of success. Real gamblers seek to study a particular game so as to reduce the risk and some live on the winnings, though they may experience slumps of varying lengths. But even those can be mitigated by knowledge and skill. In other words, they try to reduce the "luck" factor as much as can be done.

Actually, such people don't view themselves as gamblers because they don't want to simply risk without as much assurance as possible. They want the odds as much in their favor as possible and will not risk if they are not.

Some gamblers do look for the thrill of the gamble. They are willing to blindly put up their stake just for the thrill of risking it and hopefully winning. The key here is not winning, but risking. It's the action that draws them, the excitement of possibly losing all while hoping to win it all.

The former are no more guilty of covetousness than any average "chump" with a job. Both are seeking to support themselves with the gambler dealing in ways that hopefully provide a windfall income in the fewest shots.

Both parties risk, however, but not at equal levels of risk. As one who spent two years looking for full-time work after a layoff, I about what I say. I risked that the job that laid me off would be around longer. I lost. Then I risked that the career change I was forced to make would provide the same income level. I lost again, so far. Even with 50% more hours per week (though not every week), I'm still earning less. (Hopefully another company with whom I'm applying will rectify that issue somewhat.)

I also don't see where selfishness plays any greater role than I've witnessed in the regular work force. Gambling is an individual effort, so "selfishness" is only inferred. "Selfish gain" is no more present than in any job. I'm certainly not working to make the whole town better off. I'm working to make my own life (family included) better off. But through my job or whatever winnings I may someday be blessed to receive, I always intend to share. At the same time, my income from my job is had at my employer's expense. I could be a nice guy and work for free, but I insist he pay me. The gambler seeks reward for his effort as well. That isn't selfishness. It's reciprocity, just as in a job. Remember, the gambler and the house or opponent enter into the scenario by consent. All involved become so by willing choice, each aware of the risks, each with equal hope of success, merely some with more talent for succeeding more often or more greatly. That, too, is like a regular job.

Marshall Art said...

No, gambling isn't the issue. All the ills that most people associate with gambling are ills that exist in the hearts of those who abuse gambling. There are greedy people who gamble for sure, they are usually lazy and irresponsible and would be without gambling.

I agree that it is unfortunate that organized crime often is involved with legal gambling. But if they're running a clean operation, allowing people to win or lose on the terms they assume are present in any gambling situation, from a flip of a coin between friends to a Las Vegas Casino, there's really no issue there. Bad guys can run legitimate operations. If they're making dough by skimming, then there needs to be tighter oversights by law enforcement agencies tasked with doing so.

But gambling itself isn't to blame. THAT is the point.

I agree also, that state lotteries don't usually pan out as advertized. That's unfortunate and the use of lotteries to enhance revenues means the wrong bozos were elected. But I'll buy tickets while the games go on. Why not? If God wants me to win, He'll involve Himself. Otherwise, He'll let the little balls fall as they may and let luck decide.

By the way, I don't think the commandment says we can't covet a better life or a wealthier one. It says we can't covet what belongs to others. Well, I covet my boss's money to the extent of the wages upon which we agreed. There is coveting involved with asking for a raise. I don't think coveting as the commandments prohibit is at play in gambling. If it is, then it's the same as what we do when we take a job.

Gambling isn't the problem. It is merely one way sinful people can manifest their sinfulness. But it is also a way honest people can find entertainment, excitement and maybe some extra income. All the bad stuff exists regardless of gambling.

Anonymous said...

Another point about gambling that was not mentioned in this post was the stewardship aspect (Matt. 25). Spending money on gambling is not being a good steward of what God has given you. The return rate any gambling game has shown to be very little to nonexistent.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Marshall,

Gambling is indeed the issue. While some people may be able to have a friendly game among friends, that is not the same as casinos, lotteries and the like. These types of gambling have brought untold suffering because of the gambling trap people get into. Granted, it is due to lack of self-control, but gangs, syndicates, bankruptcies, broken families, crime increase where these places are all demonstrate why gambling is a blight on society. Technically gambling isn’t to blame because the gambling in and of itself is rather harmless if the individual exercises self-control, but since we are a society of sinful people, this will never happen. And, as Anonymous pointed out, I don’t really think it is good stewardship of money.

While we individually may not have problems related to gambling, when we participate in such activities we support what they bring about.

Anonymous said...

That is right Glenn. Also I agree with anonymous, it is the stewardship aspect. Are we really supposed to be putting our hard earned money into gambling with the risk involved? Those who are making the argument that it is the same as work are not being honest. The bible clearly commands working and honestly earning money, but it never commends putting money into risky enterprises. There are alot of proverbs about those who misuse money, about being a dreamer, laziness, etc. that are at least principles that would point away from gambling as a way to earn money. In fact in order to gamble alot and increase your chances, you probably cannot work full time? Also, the atmosphere at casinos is definitely not in keeping with what the Bible says that Christians are to be involved in.

Marshall Art said...

"And, as Anonymous pointed out, I don’t really think it is good stewardship of money."

One could say the same for any number of leisure activities. If I'm good at wagering, I'm making money. If I enjoy the thrill, even without being good at it, I'm simply enjoying the thrill, as a kid enjoys the thrill of a roller coaster. Personal pleasure activities rarely translate into good stewardship of one's money, if the expenditure is viewed as stewardship.

But it isn't. Even losing all the money I've saved for the purpose of gambling is within the parameters of good stewardship that is equal to blowing all the money I've saved for the purpose of enjoying an amusement park, or a round of golf, or any endeavor that doesn't produce anything more than personal pleasure.

One of the things I liked about bowling, when I had a job that allowed such a thing, is that I was good at it and could have a better than reasonable chance at winning someone's money. In this type of wagering, less chance and more personal skill is required, but chance still plays a roll and the thrill of the activity satisfies with stakes being placed atop the mere competition. Indeed, without side betting, there is the very goal of getting as much money back as possible by placing first at the end of the year. But I believe that legally, the side bets could be cause for arrest, though law enforcement doesn't trouble itself with such things.

Yeah. People get in trouble with gambling, even without organized crime being involved. But the trouble is the people, not organized crime. The trouble is bad upbringing that allows for bad behaviors to generate within otherwise decent people. You're concerned with addiction, which is a separate issue.

So anyway, I was not speaking of casinos specifically, but gambling itself. I'm aware of the issues surrounding the opening of new casinos and I share the concerns many have. I just think the focus is in the wrong place and the bad elements and addictive personalities are where they should be. Not the business of casinos itself.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

All our leisure activities are indeed about stewardship, whether it's going to the movies, bowling, going to an air show (which I will be doing this weekend), etc. But the organized gambling thing has caused much destruction among American families and society. Since it has brought so much destruction, I don't think Christians should be participating in it. Getting together with a few friends is all well and good providing one exercises self-control, but when it comes to gambling establishments, be they casinos, race tracks, etc, I think it sends a bad witness for Christians to be participating due to the amount of damage they have caused society.