Of all the addictions, one of the worst is gambling. Most chemical addictions are stopped by unconsciousness, but gamblers know no stopping: there is always one more throw of the dice, one more hand to play, one more person to borrow from. Their lives are filled with expensive thrills and deep desperation.
Notwithstanding the devastating effects of this addiction, most of our society approves of gambling. Our governments are deeply dependent upon taxes derived from gambling. Our casinos are major tourist attractions. Lotteries and raffles are widely and effectively used to raise money for charities and other socially beneficial activities.
Gambling has been on a steady increase in the last quarter of the 20th century. We lost twice as much money to gambling at the end of the century as we did in the 1980s. In 1999, the citizens of the state of New South Wales lost $963 per head through gambling, and the state had over 66,000 poker/slot machines yielding $750 per adult in 2007—up from $660 in 2002.
There are many arguments used to defend gambling. Not all gamblers are addicts, and many people gamble within their means. What is so wrong with a quick flutter now and then? It is a small diversion—an entertainment. Why should some people be denied the fun of occasional pleasure because there is a small group of problem gamblers?
In fact, many people have difficulty in defining gambling—let alone in seeing it as an evil. “After all”, it is said, “all of life is a gamble and a risk. You cannot take risk out of living. Every business person is engaged in taking risks.” The fact that some risks can be predicted by statistical probabilities or by research or by form guides does not remove the element of gambling. Actuaries do not remove the gambling risk nature of the insurance industry.
So why do Christians oppose gambling? And aren’t Christians hypocritical when they speak against gambling while living with risk and investing their money in the risks of the marketplace?
There are many reasons for opposing the current culture of gambling, though there is one reason that would make all gambling always unacceptable: gambling is an unfair form of voluntary taxation that affects the poor and vulnerable more than the rich and strong. It is always associated with, and is often the cause of, corruption and criminality. To have our governments and politicians so dependent upon the gambling industry seriously compromises good governance.
While many people may not be concerned for problem gamblers and their families, Christians should always be concerned for our fellow citizens—especially the poor and vulnerable. To enjoy our pleasures at the expense of other peoples’ misery should never sit comfortably with us.
But the deleterious outcomes of the gambling industry are not the fundamental reason for rejecting gambling; the real problem is the nature of gambling. For all gambling is unloving covetousness. Gambling is greed. This is not only the problem with gambling, but also the definition of it. Gambling is not risk-taking. It involves risk, but that is not its essence. Gambling is covetousness—the desire to gain other people’s possessions. It is quite different to investment. Investment lends to people in order that we can be mutually benefitted by the investment. In gambling, I want to take your money, and you want to take mine. The rules of the game we play will determine who wins and who loses. But we are both trying to win each other’s money.
As such, gambling always teaches and expresses economic materialism. It communicates the importance of owning. The game is secondary; the money primary. It is possible to gamble on anything—proverbially betting on two flies climbing up the wall. Without the risk of loss and the excitement of winning, the game is boring. People do not buy raffle tickets to generously support good causes. If they did, we could raise the same amount of money by asking for donations. People buy raffle tickets to win prizes. The good cause sanitizes and legitimizes the greed of wanting to win a prize or money.
The problem that Christians have with gambling is not ‘risk-taking’, but covetousness. We need to constantly fight against the temptation of greed. Personally we have to deal with the greed and covetousness in our hearts. Socially we must oppose all of those activities that are based on, or that express nothing else but, covetousness. Gambling is just such an activity.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:1-5)