New Gambling Studies Highlight Age-old Problem

By Wayne Jackson

According to a recent investigation conducted for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, some twenty million Americans have, or could develop, a serious gambling problem.

Five million Americans are now classified as “pathological” or problem gamblers (some authorities double this figure), while another fifteen million gamblers are in danger of slipping over the pathological edge.

Another shocking element of the report is the fact that more than a million adolescents, ages twelve through seventeen, are severely addicted to gambling.

Typical of the sort of rationalization common to defenders of vices was the comment of Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association. He opined that “economic and social benefits of gaming [gambling] far outweigh the costs to society.” In other words, who cares about the problems of fifteen million Americans, so long as the rest of our nation can prosper from their weakness!

The gambling vice costs our nation billions of dollars each year. In 1997, lotteries alone took $16 billion from ordinary people who had the illusive dream that they were going to “strike it rich.” But the lottery, which has only been around since 1963, has turned out to be a nightmare!

There are enormous expenses associated with gambling-divorces, court and jail costs, lost wages, bankruptcies, etc. Some attempt to minimize the gambling problem by asserting that, after all, alcohol abuse costs the nation $166 billion. Hence, gambling is a rather minor annoyance? That’s like suggesting that since burglary is not as bad as murder, society ought to ignore it.

From the dusty streets of ancient Babylon, to the glittering Las Vegas Strip, gambling lust has plagued humanity across the centuries. Virtually every civilization has acknowledged gambling as a practice damaging to the individual and to society at large.

George Washington said: “Gambling is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.” Benjamin Franklin advised: “Keep flax from fire, and youth from gaming.”

One writer, who has made a special study of the issue, suggests that gambling involves “the willingness to take a risk” motivated by a twisted

desire to get something for nothing. . . . It is parasitic, producing no personal growth, achieving no social good. Even the strongest advocates of gambling agree that gambling is a non-productive human activity (McKenna 1973).

Some authorities suggest that, psychologically speaking, the gambling “urge” involves the perversion of three basic desires: the desire for gain, a lust for excitement, and the instinct of combativeness.

There is something in the very nature of gambling that tends toward addiction: the winner becomes eager for larger wins; the loser becomes desperate to recoup his losses.

I personally know Christians who have been caught up in the gambling mania. While pursuing the get-rich-quick dream, they have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Utility bills go begging, house payments are in arrears; gamblers sometimes resort to theft, and lying becomes habitual.

Many insist gambling is simply a harmless, “recreational” release, like fishing or golfing, but there is a reason why gambling is classified as a “vice.” It gets a psychological “grip” on you. Is there an organization known as “Fishing Anonymous,” or “Golfing Anonymous”? Clearly, there is a difference in the nature of these activities.

Gambling violates several basic New Testament principles.

  • It is an abuse of the concept of stewardship. The resources one has are to be managed on behalf of the Lord; we are not free to waste our income in such a frivolous manner.
  • Gambling is a form of covetousness; it seeks to obtain money quickly, cheaply, and without honest labor in exchange for income.
  • Gambling is a violation of Matthew 7:12. How can you be a successful gambler and practice the Golden Rule? You must desire misfortune on your opponent in the game! Simply, gambling is theft!
  • As indicated above, there is something in the “genes” of gambling that makes it addictive. It is an enslaving practice that ultimately destroys many. There is a high incidence of suicide among gamblers. A recent study in Australia found that eighty-one percent of gamblers surveyed considered suicide, and thirty percent attempted it at least once in a twelve-month period.
  • The known gambler will have no Christian influence at all. Can a sincere child of God practice that which he knows will be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:12)?

If you are a gambler—whether a high-roller, or merely one who buys an occasional lottery ticket—you ought to abandon this evil.

Sources/Footnotes
  • McKenna, David. 1973. Gambling: Parasite on Public Morals. Christianity Today, June 8.
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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.