October 30, 2007

B.I.N.G.O. - Gambling, Common Sense, and the Bible

Tunica County, MS (where I ministered from 2000-2002), is one of the largest casino gaming communities in America. We Mississippians aren’t at the top of a lot of lists (not good ones anyway), but we seem to have developed gambling into an art form! So, living in that kind of community, it was easy to give powerful (although painful) illustrations if anyone ever asked about the propriety of gambling. Rampant crime, failed dreams, and broken lives were pretty easy to spot in the neon glow of Tunica. It was the girl next door, not the statistics in the paper, that helped persuade an open-eyed few of the ills of gambling.

Five years later, I find myself settled into another gambling hotbed—Cincinnati. No, the Ohio isn’t studded, like the Mississippi, with stapled-down casinos (although we do have one or two just a few miles away in Indiana). But Cincinnati is a place where Powerball, Pick 4, and other lottery tickets dominate the cash wrap at your local gas station. Cincinnati is on the outer fringe, too, of the nation’s biggest horse-racing hotbed. And Roman Catholic Cincinnati, to this deep southern boy, sometimes feels like one giant bingo hall. Gambling may be nearly as popular here as it was in Mississippi. It’s just much less glitzy; much more sedate; and thus, seemingly, much less problematic.

So in a place where gambling seems much more of a pass-time than a major industry (because there are no buildings and neon signs attached), people sometimes pose questions like:
Is gambling really wrong? How is it any different
than pumping money into a new plasma TV, or investing in the uncertainty of the
stock market?
Not the deepest spiritual questions our friends may ask, but worthy of answers, nonetheless. So what can we say about gambling…and more importantly, what does the Bible say about it? Well…nothing, directly. But there are some principles that keep most Bible-believing Christians away from the bingo halls and lottery tickets.

1. The problem of stewardship
Jesus teaches us (Matthew 25.18-30) that our money is not our own; that we are stewards of God’s resources, and that we shouldn’t bury them in the ground (much less pour them down the drain on Powerball…or at Circuit City)! Here our gambling friends have a point. It is just as wasteful to throw money away needless possessions as it is to drop it into those money sucking slot machines! But the solution is not to say gambling is no big deal…but to realize that all forms of wastefulness are sin…and to put down the credit card along with the bingo card!

2. The problem of addiction
The apostle Paul says (1 Corinthians 6.12): “I will not be mastered by anything.” Yet statistics and anecdotal evidence both say that gambling addiction is a major problem. As Alistair Begg says: “The gambling addict will gamble on anything. Two rain-drops are sliding down the windshield, and he says: ‘I’ll bet you the one on the right reaches the bottom first.’” The result of such compulsion? Crippling debt; empty dinner tables for children; addicted gamblers who attempt suicide 200 times more often than the average American; and spouses who do so 150 times more often than their peers. Is gambling worth that kind of gamble?

3. The problem of theft
Just listen to the advertisements purveyed by casinos and lottery commissions. Aren’t they designed to make the average Joe think he is destined to hit it big? It isn’t true. But it doesn’t have to be. The gambling industry and its higher-ups prey upon the ignorant, the foolish, and the desperate. Their industry is just a organized form of theft! And every dollar you and I plunk down supports their schemes. And not only are we party to these thieves, we are also their victims! For Proverbs 28.22 reminds us that “the man with an evil eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him” (emphasis mine). That is just it! Gambling execs ply their trade—tantalizing you to “hasten after wealth”—to make money, not for you, but for themselves! And before many a gambler awakens to this fact, poverty, debt, and want have come upon him!

As an aside, the difference between gambling and investing is that Schwab and Northwestern Mutual are trying to make money, but not by deceiving you. Your investing consultant lays out for you percentages, projections, and history so that you can make an educated decision. But doesn’t the gambling industry do the opposite? They don’t give you the stats--because the facts would show that you are more likely to die in a plane crash than to hit it big at lotto. No, instead of stats, they show you Joey from Delhi who just won $10,000 on Powerball. Nevermind that, the day before, that $10,000 dollars belonged to a lot of other Joeys and Janes who are now a little poorer, and a little more addicted! So the difference between investing firms and gambling outfits is one of honesty, disclosure, and motive.

4. The problem of idolatry
Some people defend the lottery and bingo night because, they say, ‘the money goes to a good cause.’ Let’s not kid ourselves. If we were really concerned about causes—that public schools had enough books; that scholarships were funded; that The Sisters of the Poor were funded, we’d just outright give money to those causes. The reason people play bingo and the lottery is not for the sake of the schools, but for the thrill of gambling and the love of money! But isn’t the love of money “the root of all forms of evil” (1 Timothy 6.10)? And doesn’t Hebrews 13.5 teach us to “free from the love of money, being content with what you have, for He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’”?

According to Hebrews 13.5, the antidote to the love of money (and the gambling that grows from it) is trusting God—that He will take care of us; that He will never leave or forsake us! So then, for those who love money, money becomes a substitute for God! We love it more than Him. We pursue it more than holiness. We trust it more than we trust our heavenly Father. That is why we gamble!

Closing Advice
I believe gambling is one of those destructive habits that must be spoken against. Are you convinced? If so, let me urge you to speak to your friends in love. Sure—give them the reasons why gambling is so problematic; explain to them (from the Bible!) why it dishonors the Lord; urge them to trust Christ for their provisions—both here, and especially in the world to come. But, by all means, do so in love! For though you may be a convinced abstainer when it comes to the lottery, the casino, the bingo hall, and the track…you, too, need a Savior! So let us be sure, while we may see the silver shavings of a scratch-and-win lotto card in our friend’s eye, that we are also willing to take the log out of our own.

1 comment:

Ron Franks said...

Thanks Kurt,
Even though I don't play BINGO or gamble I find myself convicted by the points here. We have other areas of our lives that also fall in these categories. The lines of ‘But isn’t the love of money “the root of all forms of evil” (1 Timothy 6.10)? And doesn’t Hebrews 13.5 teach us to “free from the love of money, being content with what you have, for He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’”?’ really strike at my heart. Thanks again. Keep writing and I’ll keep repenting!!