The following post is a guest article by Kit Swartz, a retired minister in the RPCNA who served for several decades in the Oswego Reformed Presbyterian Church in New York. This article originally appeared in The Palladium-Times and The Valley News and is used with permission.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month was observed in March with several items in our local media. This is an opportunity to consider what problem gambling is and how to prevent and recover from it.
A working definition of gambling is essential: gambling is putting resources at risk of loss for gain with no significant knowledge of or control over the outcome. Some consider gambling essentially immoral, others consider it only immoral if it is abused in some way and still others consider it simply foolish due to the sometimes catastrophic outcomes.
For the Christian, all questions of morality are answered by applying the moral law to an issue. The moral law is rooted in creation and valid as long as the creation endures. These creation ordinances are classically summarized in the ten commandments.
First, there are aspects of idolatry that are inherent in gambling. Lady Luck is another god, greed is an idol, and throwing the dice while calling on God for His blessing is taking His Name in vain. We take His Name in vain when we expect Him to bless us when we are not obeying a command and therefore have no promise of His blessing. “Throw the dice, God will make you win!” is eerily similar to the Devil’s command to Jesus, “Throw yourself from the Temple, God will preserve your life.”
Second, there are aspects of immorality inherent in gambling. God’s command is to earn wages not make wagers. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” “If you will not work, you will not eat.” God also commands prudent investment where you do have significant knowledge and control over the outcome. See the parable of the talents. Work to earn a wage and then make your money work for you. God also commands us to make money “the old-fashioned way”; that is, inherit it. Parents are commanded to save and invest for themselves and their children, to build wealth across the generations so that they can be a blessing to many in many ways. Finally, tithes and alms are to be given from wages, not wagers. Offerings and gifts are to be given from accumulated wealth, not accumulated winnings.
Further, when you win at gambling, you benefit from an unjust exchange. You have taken something in exchange for nothing which is stealing. When you lose, you suffer from an unjust exchange; you’ve been taken. If you gamble with your tithes and offerings, it is idolatrous worship. If you gamble with your wages, savings, or inheritance, it is an immoral misappropriation of funds. And consent does not justify the injustice. Dueling is murder despite the consent of the parties: “I will allow you to kill me if you allow me to kill you”. Gambling is stealing despite the consent of the parties: “I will allow you to steal from me if you allow me to steal from you”. Consent, even by adults, does not cover a multitude of sins!
“You shall not covet” is the commandment that reveals the motive for gambling. Coveting is desperately wanting what belongs to someone else and doing everything in your power to get it. Gamblers covet the assets of losers and desperately seek to take them without giving anything in exchange. Take the money out of gambling activities and there is little interest. Play poker with plastic chips only. Play bingo, pick a horse, spin a roulette wheel simply for the satisfaction of winning the game, and casino night will be crickets. Covetousness is what makes gambling exciting, satisfying, compelling, and even addictive, but it is a lustful, evil pleasure.
Gambling is thus idolatrous and immoral, but it is also simply foolish. The essence of gambling is its unpredictability and to invest resources in totally unpredictable events is irrational. Averages can be predicted but individual events cannot. One gambling win does not affect the probability of the next wager. The “gamblers fallacy” is that, if they are winning, they will continue to win and, if they are losing, their luck is about to turn. This is utter delusion. More importantly, those who host gambling activities set the probabilities in their favor. That is, the house always wins in the end which means the gambler always loses in the end. The sad stories of bankrupt and ruined “winners” are too many to tell along with the obscene prosperity of the venues.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month has the foolishness of gambling in mind; namely, the tragic stories of gamblers losing paychecks, savings, and inheritances. These losses inevitably impact relationships because of dependence on necessities and, very often, stealing. As with other addictions, marriages are ruined, families are broken and jobs are lost. The wages of sin – or the wagers of gambling - is, indeed, death. Fyodor Dostoyevsky did much of his writing to pay off gambling debts and his short story, The Gambler, is a confession of his terrifying, self-inflicted torture. Read it and weep, and flee from gambling as you would flee from a man with a loaded gun aimed at your head.
Many gamblers cry out with St. Paul, “Who will set me free from this death!”. His answer is, “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Only Jesus can forgive your idolatry and immorality, and only the resurrected Christ can deliver you out of death into life, out of foolishness into wisdom, out of covetousness into contentment. Jesus says to all who are oppressed by their sin and foolishness, “Come to Me and I will give you rest”. Go to Jesus in His church for His recovery from your gambling – and any other – problems. You will not be disappointed.