Gambling: Odds Are, You Lose

Presented at Good Shepherd Community Church by Barry Arnold

If you had the option of participating in an activity that would incontrovertibly and directly contribute to increased crime; thefts, robberies, embezzlement, bankruptcies, child abuse, domestic violence, and suicide, would you go ahead and participate in that activity?

If there was a possibility that the entertainment you chose today, could, 15 years from now, destroy your daughter’s marriage, contribute to her conviction for writing bad checks, if your entertainment might result in your son’s incarceration for embezzlement, or lead him to abandon his children, would you go ahead and chose that entertainment, or would you do something else?

I want to talk, today, about gambling. In bringing up this subject I know I run the risk of offending some, being labeled a Victorian fundamentalist or an ultra-conservative. Some of you may want to label this message “Archaic legalism.”

I hope you won’t, however, because the fact is we’ve swallowed a lie—a lie that buying lottery tickets, pull tabs, betting on Sports Action, Keno and video poker, slipping coins into slot machines, and visiting casinos is just harmless entertainment, and it’s not.

After two years of study the Federal Gambling Commission, last month, issued its report. Even though it appeared, two years ago, that the deck was stacked against moral conservatives, because several members represented gambling interests, “The results of the study,” in the words of Chuck Colson, “Are indisputable: Gambling will destroy our families, our communities, and our country—unless we take action.”

James Dobson, a commission member, wrote in the report, “Clearly, gambling is a destroyer that ruins lives and wrecks families. A mountain of evidence . . . demonstrates a direct link between . . . gambling and divorce, child abuse, domestic violence, bankruptcy, crime, and suicide.”

But just in Nevada and Atlantic City, right?

OH # 1
Here’s the May 7, 1999 Oregonian, front page, an article titled, Oregonians rank as high-rollers.

Oregonians spent a record $920 million on gambling in 1998, nearly as much as they spent on fishing, boating, rafting, floating, and windsurfing combined, according to a new study. The study found that per capita Oregonians spent $282 last year on gambling 41% more of [their] personal income than other Americans.

Only in the state of Nevada, are the numbers higher. We’ve got everything here. Eight tribal casinos, charity games, dog and horse racing, the lottery, video poker, and pull tabs available at 1,834 bars and 8,826 convenience stores.

Gambling in Oregon has increased 30% since 1995, thanks to a state bureaucracy that has worked hand in hand with the gambling industry to get people to gamble more and to cultivate the gambling habit in the next generation.

John Kennedy wrote, “States are in a never-ending game to loosen restrictions in order to keep their customers from crossing [state] boundary lines for richer stakes.” In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, governments get behind “vigorous promotion of gambling among the poor, less educated, and senior populations.”

In Atlantic City, Sundays are the biggest gambling day. Senior citizens from New York City pay $15 for a bus ride to Atlantic City. Upon arrival at Trump Plaza they receive $25 in free coins to begin their day.

Christianity Today, May 24, 1999

As older persons become addicted, they use Sunday as a gambling day, not a church day. Once they’re hooked, they’re ashamed to come back to church … compulsive gambling causes people who have no past criminal behavior to suddenly write bad checks or steal money from relatives. Out of control bettors lose their jobs, gamble away cars and homes, file for bankruptcy, divorce, go to prison, or kill themselves—all because the addiction becomes paramount in their lives.

OH #2
Dr. James Dobson, Jan 1999 newsletter

  • Americans gamble more money each year than they spend on groceries.
  • 5-8% of American adolescents are already addicted to gambling.
  • 75% of pathological gamblers admit to having committed at least one felony to support their habit.

Christianity Today, again.

While there are similarities with alcoholism, gambling may be the addiction with the greatest potential for rapid destruction. Unlike alcoholism, the object of obsession is money. In a matter of hours, gamblers can ruin themselves economically. And dissimilar to alcoholism, the problem gambler often resorts to illegal means to satisfy the craving.

Bob Dorsey, one of our counselors, told me he believes gambling may be more addictive than cocaine. With cocaine you know you’ll never match your first line, your first high—even though you try. With gambling there’s not only the possibility that you can exceed your first win, there are intermediate wins that reinforce that potential.

Dr. Michael Palmen, of Mayo Clinic agrees.

With gambling, you don’t introduce a chemical from the outside, but the impact of a ‘big win’ may be quite similar on the reward circuitry of the brain [to] a chemical high. And the opposite may be true—when a gambler is losing and feeling an intense drive to make up for those losses, it may be like withdrawal from drugs.

Dobson again:

Problem gamblers inevitably slide into the quicksand of debt, (and) they become desperate to “earn it all back.” That almost never happens, and even when it does, that addictive individual quickly loses everything again.

(Gamblers Anonymous estimates that less than 10% of compulsive gamblers who have gone through treatment are able to resist returning to gambling.)

OH #3
What makes gambling so sinister? (Two things.)

1. Gambling is often seen as a “ticket out of poverty,” a last chance for riches that preys on the desperation of the poor.


2. Gambling has changed from a sin or a vice in America to “harmless entertainment.” We’ve even changed the terminology. It’s not “gambling” it “gaming.” We hear about lottery “earnings”—never gambler losses.

No doubt many of you have visited casinos, or maybe you’ve taken family vacations to Reno or Las Vegas. Maybe you went there with a pre-determined amount of money to play, which, when it was gone, was all you spent. You haven’t gotten hooked, and you haven’t lost control so you’re thinking right now, “Come on, Barry, lighten up. It’s just fun.”

There are some people who are able to participate in gambling without losing control, but others are more vulnerable to the highly addictive nature of gambling—and there’s no way to tell ahead of time who those people will be. No one expects to become “the statistic,” but the whole gambling industry is designed to snare you.

OH #4
If you’re a “recreational gambler” here are some questions to consider:

1. If there was no chance of winning any money would you still play the game?

2. What is it about gambling that attracts you? Is it the spinning colors of the roulette wheel—or something else? Do you go to a horse race or a dog race to watch animals run—or for some other reason?

ILLUS: I read the story of a Winchester, Tennessee man who worked with the chemically addicted for 20 years—before he became a compulsive gambler after he went to a casino one time with friends. Even knowing about addictions isn’t protection against a gambling addiction.

Did you know that half the money wagered in casinos is not carried onto the premises, but comes from ATM’s inside?

ILLUS: A friend of ours works in a Washington state casino. She described to my wife and I how tragic it is to see the same people coming in night after night, losing whatever they’ve gathered that day, then standing by the ATM machines waiting for midnight so they can make another cash draw on their credit cards, on another business day.

Our friend said that if gambling in Washington were to ever come up for a vote—she would vote against it. The results are just too sad.

Unfortunately, churches in the U.S. have helped build the road to ruin, many times forfeiting the moral ground on which they should have stood. Church and charity bingo games and raffles have become a socially acceptable low stakes introduction to gambling.

ILLUS: Several years back a friend of ours, a single woman who worked a $28,000 a year government job, asked me to help her with her taxes. She was a charity bingo player—and she kept nightly slips of her winnings and losses. When she handed me the stack of papers and receipts she said, “I think I’ll have to pay taxes on my winnings.”

When I got done compiling her records she didn’t need to worry about paying taxes on her bingo winnings. Her net loss was $12,000 just that year—just on bingo. All she could remember were the wins. Gambling does that to you.

A study of homeless people across the nation by the International Union of Gospel Mission shelters revealed that 18% of their clients were homeless as a result of gambling.

Could you become a compulsive gambler? I don’t know.

The American Psychiatric Association lists ten criteria for determining levels of dependence. They say if you answer “yes” to at least five of the following statements, you’re in grave danger.

OH # 5
1. Are you preoccupied with gambling (e.g. preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)?

2. Do you feel the need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve desired excitement?

3. Have you had repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut back or stop gambling?

4. Are you restless or irritable when you attempt to cut down or stop gambling?

5. Is gambling a way you attempt to escape problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression?

OH #6
6. After losing money gambling, do you often return another day to try and get even?

7. Have you lied to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with gambling?

8. Have you committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling?

9. Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling?

10. Have you relied on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling?

Compulsive gamblers are often unaware of the extent to which they’ve lost control. They may deny their problem and go to great lengths to conceal it. If you answered “yes” to any of the questions it’s a warning. If you answered “yes” to several, you need help. You will not be able to extricate yourself from the downward spiral you are in by yourself.

TRANS: Probably most of you answered “no” to every one of these questions. Does that mean then there’s no risk, this is all just blowing smoke, and it’s fine for you to go ahead and gamble?

Let’s consider what the Bible has to say. While it doesn’t address gambling directly, there are some clear principles that relate to it.

OH #7
1. God is sufficient to supply all your needs. If you are living obediently, tithing and giving sacrificially to the poor God promises . . .

Phil 4:19, And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Gambling lures you to not wait for God—to take a shortcut to gratification. Rex Rodgers said, “Deferred gratification is shelved in favor of instant demand. Americans want more, and they want it now.”

God says, “I’ll provide everything you need if you trust me.”

2. God is a jealous God. He demands that He, alone, be the focus of our worship and affection.

Ex. 20:3-5 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol . . . 5 for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.

Gambling offers counterfeit hope. Psalm 42 says, “Put your hope in God.” Hope in a gambling payoff and hope in God are mutually exclusive. Trusting in anything other than God is idolatry.

OH #8
3. The Bible commends working for a living—not playing odds.

Prov. 28:19 He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty. 20 A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.

By the way, “casting lots” is mentioned several times in the Bible. The Roman soldiers at the cross certainly weren’t commended for their activity, and OT examples of “lot casting” were not for money, nor did the casting of lots ever place people or things of value at risk, rather it was an rarely-employed method of discerning God’s will. Those who cast lots were not exercising faith in chance but in God himself.

A day’s work for a day’s wage is the biblical principle.

Here’s a fourth biblical principle:

4. We’re to love our neighbors. Taking advantage of others’ weaknesses for the sake of personal gain is the exact opposite of loving your neighbor. Gambling creates a situation in which one person’s gain is necessarily many persons’ loss.

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Rex Rogers wrote,

To take from one’s neighbor in an unfair exchange is not love, to [participate] in a system where those least able to afford it lose their livelihood is not justice, and to continue operating a system that exploits human weakness while promoting personal pleasure and profit over others’ pain and loss is not mercy.

OH #9

Prov. 11:25 A generous man (not the greedy one) will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

Matt 22:39 ... Love your neighbor as yourself.

Rom 15:1 We who are strong ought to bear with (not take advantage of) the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

ILLUS: Let’s say you don’t presently have a gambling addiction, you’re making a good income, tithing, giving to the poor, walking with Christ, and, just on a whim, while you’re buying gas you decide to also pick up a lottery ticket.

And, let’s say, like the Minnesota secretary last week, you defy the 80 million-to-one odds and you win the jackpot. Eighty million dollars. Where did that money come from?

Did it come from Bill Gates, who would hardly know it was missing? Is it large corporation money? Is it impersonal, free, and rightfully yours? Where did it come from?

If people who can afford to bet choose to throw a buck on an 80-million-to-one longshot isn’t that their business?

Of course, but every study shows that’s not where the money comes from. It comes from players like Ernie Kovic, a 28-year-old Bronx waiter who was in trade school last summer when the Powerball lottery jackpot hit $295 million. Kovic decided to take the money he’d saved for tuition, $3000, and buy Powerball tickets. He told the New York Times, “Hey, if I win, I won’t have to go to school.” But, of course, he didn’t.

It’s estimated that, nationally, ten percent of lottery players account for half of all lottery purchases. Many studies bear that out.

  • University of Illinois economist Earl Crinols calculates that 52 percent of casino revenues come from active problem and pathological gamblers.
  • Jeff Mapes, in an Oregonian article dated March 9, 1997, wrote, “Problem gamblers are providing a huge share (perhaps even a majority) of the more than $200 million in profits raised by video poker each year.”
  • University of Minnesota researchers calculated that 2 percent of gamblers account for 63% of all the money wagered in Minnesota.
  • Duke University researchers found that 5% of lottery players account for half the money spent, and that 5% are the ones that can least afford it.

Dobson quoted a Washington Post study which concluded that “lotteries rely on a hard core of heavy players, who, on average, have less education and lower incomes than the population as a whole.”

Do you think, that before God, you could receive with a clear conscience what vulnerable people have been exploited to wager? Would you be able to pray over your winner’s check and say, “Lord, thank you for the way you provide. You’re really awesome?”

Just because you don’t know the people whose money you are “winning” doesn’t make the money clean. If it did, one could easily argue that the Colombian drug lords are clean as well because they don’t know the addict’s faces in New York.

Can you imagine yourself looking into the eyes of a child who has been abused and neglected because of a parent’s gambling addition, holding up your winning lottery ticket, and saying to that child, “I was lucky today?”

Randy Alcorn and I were discussing gambling recently. He commented in an email:

If someone wins, it required a lot of people losing. Society is taking advantage of people’s weaknesses. Exploiting their character flaws [then] patting ourselves on the back because we used lottery funds for good uses, or to help an endangered species … Instead of slinking away in shame at our immorality we set ourselves up on the moral high ground.

Last Tuesday the Oregon House approved $20 million in lottery funds for a Coos Bay gas pipeline, $17.7 million for dredging in the Colombia, $10 million for the State Fair, $5 million for parks, and some other projects. All good. Know what’s scary about this bill—besides the fact that it’s gambling money?

Not only are we continuing to expand the number of state programs financed by gambling, this bill actually proposes to borrow funds, a debt that will be paid in the future by Oregon citizens’ losses in the lottery.

We should be willing to pay higher taxes to pay for necessary government functions and services if we were to get rid of the lottery. Statements like that are a quick way to lose friends, huh?

Many times I’ve have heard many people say, “Hey, if they want to give their money away, fine with me. They can pay my taxes.”

Ross Talbot provided me an anonymous quote: “Gambling is for the mathematically challenged.”

“Not my problem if they want to throw their money away and my kids benefit.” Really? Is that what Christ would say? “It’s fine with me if the poor, the addicted, the elderly, and the most vulnerable pay for my children’s education?” You think Jesus would say that?

There’s a fifth biblical principle. (OH #9 cont.)

5. Heart follows money. It’s a fundamental truth.

  • Buy some Starbucks stock and you’ll find your eyes drawn to every newspaper article that relates to coffee. Heart follows money.
  • You have a vested interest in what happens in Sudan now—because you’ve invested your money. At $172,000 some of you have made a substantial investment. I guarantee, you’re thinking more of the people in Sudan. You’re praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters there more than you were before. I know—because heart follows money.
  • If you’re a guest here today, trying to decided if this should be your church, our hope is that you’ll stay. We don’t have an official membership here, but if you do decide to make Good Shepherd your church home, know when you’ll find yourself saying, “This is my church?” When you begin tithing.

Heart follows money. Put your money in video poker and your heart will follow. The question you need to settle is, “where do you want your heart to be?” and put your money there.

Matt. 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

OH #10
The sixth biblical axiom is this:

6. The 10th commandment prohibits coveting, the desire to get something you don’t deserve. Gambling feeds covetousness, which is the antithesis of contentment.

7. Christians are not to allow anything to become their master—other than the love of Christ.

1 Cor 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Probably, right now, you’re mulling some “what about” questions.

  • What about a private bet just for fun on a football game with a friend?
  • What about 50/50 fund raisers?
  • What about raffles?
  • What about playing poker with pennies?

Isn’t it fascinating that when we’re talking about sin, the specific questions often relate to, “How close can I get without going over the line?

OH #11

Pascal called gambling “a fatal fascination,”
Like a moth’s fascination with the light and heat of a candle.

The question you have to answer is, “How close do you want to fly to the flame?” I can’t answer that for you.

Know where the fascination with the candle is growing most rapidly, which segment of Oregon’s population is embracing gambling faster than any other? Among our students.

A 1998 study commissioned by the Oregon Gambling Addiction Treatment Foundation wanted to know how prevalent gambling behavior and pathological gambling was among Oregon’s 13-17-year-olds.

The study concluded that “rates of problem gambling among Oregon youth are considerably higher than the rates for adult problem gambling.”

OH #12
Researchers found that:

  • Seventy-five percent of respondents surveyed reported gambling for money at least once, and 66% said they had gambled in the last year.
  • The rate of “level 2” gambling (in transition to problem gambling) among gamblers in this age group is 11.2%.
  • 39% of 13-17 year-olds have played the Oregon lottery at least once, and 30% said they’d played in the last year.
  • Approximately 19% of respondents said they had gambled in a casino.

OH #13

  • The study said that the age when gambling starts may be decreasing in Oregon. Thirteen and fourteen-year-olds were significantly more likely to report gambling in grade school than 15-17-year olds. And, respondents who reported gambling in grade school were significantly more likely to be problem gamblers.
  • The most popular gambling activities of teens are purchasing raffle tickets, betting on sports with friends or relatives, playing cards, and betting on games of skill such as pool or bowling.
  • The study verified the finds of other studies in concluding that “youth in this survey were significantly more likely to gamble and were also more likely to begin gambling in grade school if one or both of their parents gambled. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Another study by the University of Michigan this year found that 45 percent of male college football and basketball players admit to gambling on sports.”
The American Psychological Association agreed with the findings of the Oregon study. The APA said, “Research shows that adolescents may become more addicted to gambling than they are to alcohol, smoking and drugs.”

We haven’t even talked about crime—the influence of organized crime and the increase in crime that inevitably follows organized gambling.

Chuck Colson wrote in his April 30 Breakpoint publication,

Police chiefs across the country warn that crime has a way of following wherever gambling is introduced—even in small towns. That’s because compulsive gamblers will commit everything from property crime to armed robbery to get their hands on cash with which to gamble.

I’ve given you a lot of information. It’s the truth. What you do with it is up to you.

The glitter and sheen of gambling floats on a deep and minacious cesspool. As a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to put your big toe in, wade in just up to you knees, go for a swim, or stay away.

Let me just say one more thing in conclusion: If you find yourself trapped in gambling addiction, we don’t condemn you, we want to help. Begin by talking to one of our Next Step counselors right after the service.

Photo by Heather Gill on Unsplash