Is Gambling a Moral Issue?

By Wayne Jackson

Michael Fitzgerald is an award-winning columnist for The Record, a leading newspaper for the north-central region of the sprawling San Joaquin Valley [Stockton, California]. Some time ago, he penned an article addressing the growing encroachment of gambling casinos in California.

While gambling casinos generally are not legal in California, in recent years they have been sanctioned on behalf of various Indian tribes. The rationale is this: since the Indians were so abused historically by the White man, the noble original American now should be permitted retribution; he is at liberty to exploit the weakness of those whose adrenalin is discharged only by the whirl of the roulette wheel or the rustle of a deck of cards.

But Fitzgerald is much opposed to this “Indian uprising” for a variety of sound reasons. We will summarize them as follows:

The Myth of Gambling Economics

The journalist first assaults the so-called “economic” argument. This is the notion that casinos will bring in huge revenues for the surrounding area, thus providing tax relief.

Not so, contends Mr. Fitzgerald. He cites a 1994 study out of the University of Illinois that indicated the social problems created by gambling, (e.g., gambling addiction, domestic abuse, suicide, crime, indebtedness, etc.) outweigh by far any benefits to the community. In fact, the gambling enterprise costs “taxpayers $3 for every $1 of state revenue collected.”

Additionally: “A Creigton University study found that counties with casinos soon have double the bankruptcy rates of counties without casinos.”

Psychological and Physiological Effects of Gambling

Another argument that the respected journalist employed has to do with the psychological and physiological damage believed by some authorities to result from recreational gaming, at least for those who become compulsive gamblers. Fitzgerald cites Dr. Howard J. Shaffer, of the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions.

“‘Gambling is an addictive behavior, make no mistake about it. It has all the properties of a psychoactive substance. It changes the neurochemistry of the brain.’ In other words, the excitement of the possibility of winning a huge sum of money, with minimal investment, has a narcotic-like effect on the brain — that calls for greater and greater risks, in the hope of that ‘big’ win.”

According to the popular columnist, one study revealed that 43% of those who gamble have a tendency towards “compulsion,” that intense urge that causes them to get caught up in a frenzy that results in their spending more money than they can afford.

Gambling and the Environment

Our journalist neighbor addressed the environmental aspect of the casino problem. There are enormous increases in traffic on local highways, as gaming addicts pour into the casino areas — especially on weekends.

Nearby, formerly peaceful communities are smothered by the influx of those “suckers” (to use Fitzgerald’s jargon) whose “neurochemically altered heads” continue to look for that elusive pot of gold at the end of the gambling rainbow.

What About the Morality of Gambling

The interesting thing about Mr. Fitzgerald’s article is the fact that this respected columnist is a confessed agnostic, though he readily acknowledges that he “really doesn’t understand the big questions.” Perhaps he doesn’t understand even the “smaller” ones.

Not once does the gentleman argue his case based upon any moral principle; his objections to casino gambling (and its deleterious effects) all are based upon purely personal, pragmatic grounds (i.e., the gambling experiments simply do not work; they do not serve the community well). They don’t accomplish what they claim to; rather, they leave only economic, social, and psychological problems in their wake.

But isn’t this a “moral” problem? Think about this. What if the Indians, the gamblers, and the Vegas investors simply don’t care about the local impact? Who’s to say they should care?

Who has the authority to say that their “fun” should be stifled in deference to the alleged “discomfort” of others? If people want to be “suckers,” who has the right to oppose them, or criticize them?

No agnostic can answer this question.

Why is it so bad to become addicted to gaming? What’s wrong with going head-over-heels in debt? Why is it worthy of censure that some opt to commit suicide? What’s so terrible about leaving a widow and several children behind with no one to care for them? Let them go on welfare! So what if the community has to pick up the tab. Get over it!

The fact is, no atheist, skeptic, or agnostic — all of whom reject an ultimate moral code imposed by the Creator, can sensibly and consistently argue against any social problem. Any protest against societal conduct, that allows that man has the authority to write his own manual for morality is doomed to logical disaster because one can always contend that my “right” trumps your “wrong.” Or vice versa!

If there is no ultimate moral standard by which human activity is to be measured; if there is no final accountability for one’s actions, the rule of “anything goes” becomes the name of the game, and no one can present a convincing argument to the contrary.

It takes more to construct a cogent case than the ability to turn a “cute” phrase.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.