According to recent statistical studies,
· Approximately 95% of American citizens have gambled at some time in their lives. About 82% have played a state sponsored lottery, 75% have played slot machines, 50% have gambled on either horse or dog races, 44% have played poker, and 34% gamble via bingo. More than 25% have gambled on sports events. Amazingly, recent polls indicate that nearly 90% of the American population approves of casino gambling.
· State lotteries now bring in $30 billion per year in the 37 states and the District of Columbia where they are legal.
· Utah and Hawaii are the only two states without some form of legalized gambling.
· More than 55 million Americans play the lottery at least once a month. Americans spend approximately $88 million every day on the lottery, more than they spend on groceries.
· Gambling expenditures as a whole (lotteries, casinos, sports betting, etc.) now top $550 billion per year. That is more money than Americans spend per year on films, books, amusements, and music entertainment combined. It represents an increase of roughly 3,000 percent in the past 20 years.
· Roughly 1.3 million teenagers (i.e., @ 7%) are regarded as addicted to some form of gambling.
· Next to Nevada, the state of Mississippi has more casino gambling space than any state in America. The state and local governments tax gambling revenues at a rate of 12%. In 1994, the money spent on gambling in Mississippi exceeded all the taxable retail sales in the state. Those making $10,000 or less, spend more than 10% of their income on gambling if they live in a county where it is legal.
· 5% of those who gamble are "problem gamblers." They cost society an estimated $13,200 a year (bankruptcies, fraud, embezzlement, unpaid debts, criminal justice costs). Other estimates range from $20 to $30,000 a year. A 1997 study in Mississippi said that there are @ 60,000 problem gamblers in the state costing the state at least $700 million annually (which is considerably more than casinos pay in taxes).
· In Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the decade after gambling was introduced, the number of restaurants declined from 243 to 146. In four years retail businesses were reduced by 1/3 and the city went from fiftieth in the nation in per capita crime to first. The police department budget has tripled but the crime rate is the highest in the state.
A. State-run Lotteries
In an article written several years ago for Moody Monthly, Kerby Anderson examined certain problems with state-run lotteries. He writes:
"First, state lotteries represent bad social policy. Gamblers Anonymous estimates at least 10 million people are compulsive gamblers (96 percent of whom began gambling before age 14). [Note: these statistics are from 1985! One can only guess how high the number is today.] Is it wise to enact programs that tempt those addicted to gambling? State sponsorship of gambling makes it harder for the compulsive gambler to reform. Some opponents fear that lotteries are creating a whole new class of gamblers with attendant crimes and social problems. Many of the social costs --- thefts, embezzlement, family neglect, etc. --- are never considered because they are frequently indirect."
Anderson points out that, according to most studies, those hurt the worst by legalized gambling are minorities and the poor, the very people who desperately need the help and support of the church. He continues:
"Second, state lotteries represent bad government policy. Proponents argue that because people are going to gamble anyway, the states might as well legalize it and gain revenue. But with legalization comes legitimization. If a practice is deemed legal, some assume it is therefore moral. Government, therefore, doesn't just legalize gambling; it places on it its moral seal of approval. Moreover, states don't simply legalize lotteries, they must be aggressively marketed through advertising, new games, and gimmicks. Government, no longer neutral, finds itself tempting its citizens to gamble (Delaware studies, for example, show that 72 percent of the state's regular lottery players had never gambled before)."
When one looks at this in the light of Romans 13, in which Paul speaks about government as the instrument of God for the promotion of good and the punishment of evil, it seems as if it should seek to promote public virtue instead of enticing its citizens to participate in legalized vice.
Anderson goes on to explain how legalized gambling, contrary to much public opinion, is bad economic policy. It takes money from people's pockets which could otherwise have been invested in more productive ways. It often serves only to depress business by diverting money that would have been spent on consumer goods. Finally, state legalized gambling is bad criminal policy. Organized crime, prostitution, theft, murder, all flourish in the wake of legalized gambling.
B. The Bible on Gambling
Does the Bible explicitly condemn or forbid gambling? No. However, I do believe there are certain principles that militate against it.
(1) Gambling is poor stewardship. The believer's responsibility is to use wealth to promote the kingdom of God. The emphasis in Scripture is never on the use of money with a view to increasing one's personal fortune but on putting our money to use in the service of those who are in need. It simply is not wise and responsible behavior to take what God has graciously bestowed and entrust it to circumstances over which we have no control. Question: How does gambling differ from investment in the stock market? Some would say that in the case of the latter, there is the possibility, indeed probability, of all who invest getting a return. Not so with gambling, in which one’s gain can only come from someone else’s loss.
"He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment" (Prov. 12:11).
(2) The biblical command is that the believer should obtain money by faithful and diligent exercise of God-given talents in work. Gambling is an attempt to obtain money that promotes sloth and is often an excuse for not working. Tim Stafford comments that "casino gambling guarantees a win-lose situation. With the odds firmly stacked in favor of the house, such gaming violates our commitment to fairness and falsely advertises itself as a short-cut around thrift and hard work – values rooted in Christian teaching and practice. Gambling seduces us into believing in gain without pain and earnings without effort."
Again, he writes: "Gambling appeals to people's fantasies that they can get something for nothing. It is the pornography of success, undermining that important element of character known as the work ethic – the conviction that all people need to work persistently at productive tasks" ("None Dare Call It Sin", Christianity Today, May 18, 1998, p. 37).
(3) Gambling promotes covetousness and greed, whereas the Word of God encourages contentment (Phil. 4:11-12; Heb. 13:5). If one is seven times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win a million dollars in a state lottery, why do people continue to buy tickets? Greed!
(4) Gambling appears to create a condition in which one person's gain is necessarily another person's loss. In other words, in gambling, someone always loses. If so, it would seem to violate brotherly love and justice. The point is this. Every time a person plays poker he/she can win only at the expense of another player. The money you might win playing cards is not being paid to you by someone for whom you have rendered a service or to whom you have contributed something beneficial. The money you win is most often another person’s salary or grocery money or tuition money for their child who is in college. Your success is their failure. You can only profit by causing their loss. This is hardly compatible with Christian love.
Question: Does this always apply to all forms of gambling? If not, would it cease to have value as an argument for the sinfulness of gambling?
(5) There is a fundamental flaw in the character of any government that seeks to capitalize financially on the moral weakness of its members.
(6) Gambling appears to violate our belief in the sovereignty of God. Rex Rogers has written:
"Belief in luck and belief in a sovereign God are mutually exclusive, for if an omniscient, omnipotent Creator God exists then luck makes no sense. Things don't 'just happen.' Nothing – including the secondary causes operative in the universe (the 'laws' of nature and human choices) – happens outside of God's will and disposition. So belief in God not only dispels any idea of luck, it also rejects any idea of chance as a determining factor in natural events or people's destiny. . . Any trust in luck rather than God is therefore a form of idolatry" ("America's New Love Affair with Gambling," CRJ, January-March 1998, p. 21).
But didn't the OT endorse the casting of "lots"? Yes, but casting of lots "is a biblical illustration not of gambling (for no money or other value was placed at risk in hopes of greater gain) but of individuals trusting a sovereign God to direct the 'chance' disposition or direction of the lay of the lots. People used 'chance' to understand God's will. Their faith was not in chance but in God" (Rogers, 21-22).
Be it noted, also, that subsequent to the casting of lots in Acts 1 the practice is nowhere mentioned (or endorsed) in Scripture. It would appear that, with Pentecost and the coming of the fulness of the Holy Spirit, God has dispensed with all such forms of ascertaining His will.
We should also take note of Isaiah 65:11 where the prophet protests against those "who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny." Evidently the Israelites were being influenced by the Babylonians who frequently engaged in games of chance. The two deities mentioned here (Fortune and Destiny) were the gods of fate, symbols of good and bad luck. Isaiah thus denounces their turning from God to put their trust in chance
(7) Gambling has such a powerful potential for enslaving those who participate that it may well violate the admonition of Scripture that we not be mastered by anything or anyone other than the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:12). Why engage in a sport or hobby or game that has the capacity to destroy your life and that of your family? Why pursue an activity that is more psychologically addictive than perhaps any other endeavor?
Don't Play the Lottery for Me!
By John Piper
January 1, 2003
The West Virginia pastors who accepted Jack Whittaker's tithe on his $170 million Powerball booty should be ashamed of themselves. One of them said, "That's a blessing to have that kind of backing." I don't think so.
Christ does not build his church on the backs of the poor. The engine that delivers his righteousness in the world is not driven by the desire to get rich. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not advanced by undermining civic virtue. Let the pastors take their silver and throw it back into the temple of greed.
In 2001 Americans wagered $57 billion dollars on lotteries, $18 billion on horses and dogs, $592 billion in casinos, and $150 billion on other gambling. This is a blot on American life. Break it down to individuals. Massachusetts sells more than $500 worth of lottery tickets each year for every man, woman, and child. Think how many do not gamble, and you will begin to imagine what thousands are throwing away to have a 1-to-135,145,920 chance for the jackpot.
The American exploitation of the poor with lotteries muddies the conscience of many legislators. Statistics abound that "the government-sponsored lottery continues its shameless exploitation of the poor" (James Dobson, April, 1999 Newsletter). This exploitation is explicit in some of the advertising bought by the $400 million spent annually by states to promote lotteries. For example, in Chicago one sign read: "This could be your ticket out." That is shameless. Other promotions mock the virtues of hard work and serious study as a way to make a living. Plan A: Study hard, save money, get old. Plan B: Play the lottery.
Only a few, it seems, are willing to say how far and how manifold are the corrupting effects of the lottery. How many have pondered this insight from Richard Neuhaus, "In a democracy, the need for popular consent to tax is a powerful check on government growth and irresponsibility. A government that raises money by encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses of its citizens escapes that democratic mechanism of accountability. As important, state-sponsored gambling undercuts the civic virtue upon which democratic governance depends" (First Things, Sept., 1991, p. 12).
Is it a "blessing" for the church of Jesus Christ to have the backing of a social sickness that "destroys marriages, undermines the work ethic, increases crime, motivates suicide, destroys the financial security of families . . . and dupes people into believing [it] will benefit the children" (Dobson)?
Don't play Powerball for me. And don't play it for Bethlehem. I go on record now that I will not knowingly take any money won from gambling. And I will do my best to lead the elders of our church from accepting any money offered to this church from the proceeds of gambling.
We are followers of Jesus. He had no place to lay his head and did not accept the demonic temptation to jump off the temple for the jackpot of instant recognition. The Calvary road is not paved with Powerball tickets, but with blood. The Church was bought once by One who refused the short cut of instant triumph. It will never be bought by those who dream of riches.
The lottery is another opportunity to pierce your soul with many pangs, and lead your children into ruin. The Bible says, "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. . . . Some by longing for it . . . and pierced themselves with many a pang (1 Timothy 6:9-10). In other words, the desire to be rich is suicidal. And endorsing it is cruel.
It is wrong to wager with a trust fund. And all we have, as humans, is a trust fund. Everything we have is a trust from God, to be used for his glory. "[God] himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). Faithful trustees may not gamble with a trust fund. They work and trade: value for value, just and fair. This is the pattern again and again in Scripture. And when you are handling the funds of another, how much more irresponsible it is to wager!
Don't play the Lottery for Bethlehem Baptist Church. We will not, I pray, salve your conscience by taking one dime of your plunder, or supporting even the thought of your spiritual suicide. Let the widow give her penny and the laborer his wage. And keep your life free from the love of money