Compulsive gambling can and does destroy lives just like drug addiction and alcoholism. It is just one more sign of the moral decline currently gripping many nations.
Simply living from day to day involves a certain degree of risk-taking. We've all heard the expression, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." And sometimes the stakes are high. The pioneering Americans who conquered the Western frontier risked much in pursuit of land and settlement.
But these courageous pioneers were willing to work and wait for the eventual realization of their material goals. They invested great time and effort. They didn't expect something for nothing in some kind of get-rich-quick scheme.
Today, pursuing instant success is becoming a pervasive part of Western culture. Patience and anticipation of the satisfying rewards of hard work are not as evident as they once were. The growing menace of gambling is but a symptom of the times. Witness all the lotteries, horse and greyhound racing, sports pools and the like.
But today's gambling—expecting instant windfalls to solve stubborn financial problems—is both foolhardy and dangerous. Except for a few people, instant monetary gratification is but an illusory dream. It does happen, but instant "rags to riches" is a rare occurrence. Yet many continue to gamble in the vain hope that they will magically be one of the favored few who strike it rich.
Gambling problem in the United States
The enormous growth in commercialized gambling in the United States illustrates the magnitude of the problem. Twenty years ago, only two states had commercialized gambling. Now it's grown to include every state except Hawaii and Utah. Many state governments have gotten into the act, using various forms of gambling to generate revenue.
According to a press release from the American Gaming Association, in 2005 "the 455 commercial casinos in 11 states generated $30.29 billion in gross gaming revenue, . . . an increase of nearly 5 percent over 2004 revenue totals." The same press release noted that gambling spending in Las Vegas exceeded $6 billion, and in Atlantic City, New Jersey, it surpassed $5 billion.
The overall picture is sobering. Senior citizens in New Jersey are a case in point. According to the Morris County, New Jersey, Daily Record (June 13), a poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University and The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey found that nearly one in four senior citizens in New Jersey who gambles has a gambling disorder, and three of every four New Jersey seniors gamble. The findings indicate that some 340,000 of New Jersey senior citizens could have a gambling problem.
The stakes are high, too, since "the survey found senior citizens with gambling problems spend $14,300 per year in casinos and $1,160 per year on lotteries." Statistics indicate that well over half of American adults participate in legal gambling. A much greater concern is the fact that millions of Americans are problem gamblers, many on a lifetime basis.
Even more disturbing is the fact that 20 percent of the nation's youths are taking up the habit, according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. The availability of online gambling has added to the dimensions of the overall problem.
The problem in Britain
In the words of U.K. journalist Olivia Stewart-Liberty, "A British gambling revolution is in the cards." She concluded that "in the end, everyone's on a losing streak."
Her assessment is borne out by grim statistics. According to a front-page article in The Independent succinctly titled "Gambling Nation" (May 25), Britons spent £50 billion on gambling last year. It also noted there are 370,000 problem gamblers now, with a total of 700,000 anticipated within five years in the United Kingdom.
Further, the article states, there has been a 41.3 percent rise in the number of people asking for help with gambling addictions. The betting on the World Cup in Germany is estimated at £1.3 billion. The article summed up the problem this way: " Britain is experiencing an unprecedented boom in betting."
Britain is the betting capital of Europe, with money spent on gambling having increased from £7.6 billion to almost £50 billion in the last several years. This explosion raised Britain to a notorious third in the world, just behind the United States and Japan.
Good advice from Australia
Australians have urged Britain to think twice before it eases its gambling laws. They've been there, done that.
In 1997 Australia liberalized its gambling regulations—with the result that 82 percent of all adults now gamble, about 40 percent at least once a week. Australia now has some 300,000 problem gamblers, the highest per capita in the world, says Anna Gizowska in The Sunday Telegraph.
One addicted Sydney businessman admitted to more than one suicide attempt. He said: "Gambling in Australia is becoming an epidemic. It almost ruined my life. My gambling addiction cost me everything: My family, my kids, my home, my business, my investments. They've all gone. I lost everything" (ibid., Oct. 17, 2004).
The statistics tell the story. "There are more than 170,000 gaming machines in Australia to cater for its 19 million population—triple the number of machines in Europe with a population of 520 million" (ibid.).
The burgeoning human cost
Religious writer Paul Richards reported that "studies show gamblers going without food and clothes, resorting to theft and other illegal activities to get money [for the gambling habit] and suffering high rates of family breakdown" ( The Church of England newspaper, Oct. 29, 2004).
According to San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Gluss, "Economist Earl Grinols, author of Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, studied the rates of crime, bankruptcies, lost workdays, domestic violence, illness, divorces and more, in counties with—and without—casinos. Even using conservative estimates, he found that social costs of gambling outweigh benefits 3 to 1.
"Just one pathological gambler costs society about $11,000, says Grinols. He estimates the annual cost of gambling to the U.S. economy at between $40 billion and $50 billion, nearly half the cost of drug abuse. The bottom line: Gambling takes far more than it gives.
"Entire communities can suffer. Although casinos create a host of new jobs at first, those gains are typically offset by layoffs and poor sales in area businesses. Restaurants lose customers to the casino's bars and cafes. Dollars spent by townsfolk on, say, refrigerators, cars, or clothes disappear into a slot machine vacuum."
Missouri is a case in point. Gambling tax revenue brought $242 million in 2002. But Casino Watch, a group opposed to gambling, argues that "the state lost more than double that amount—a whopping $572 million—in gambling-related business failures, crime, unemployment, social service costs and more."
On the other hand, when South Carolina banned slot machines in 2000, two thirds of its Gamblers Anonymous groups disbanded within six months due to drastic drops in members needing those services.
Gluss sums up the problem: With gambling, "we all pay the social and financial consequences. Dearly" ("Backlash on Betting: Addiction Is Only Part of Gaming's Heavy Social Cost," Oct. 24, 2004).
Applying the biblical principles
Although the Bible does not mention the term gambling by name, the Christian principles are clear and plain. Compulsive gambling for stakes that make a difference is a violation of the Tenth Commandment forbidding coveting. (We are not talking here about a private poker game among friends for matchsticks or dimes.)
This commandment forbids greed and covetousness (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). Indeed the apostle Paul labels covetousness as a form of idolatry—putting something else in the place of the true God.
Contrary to the advice of a popular actor in the role of a Wall Street baron in a popular movie several years ago, greed is not good. The kickback is far too high a price to pay. Simply put, we should be willing to work for what we earn and not increase our own wealth with the intention of depriving others.
The biblical proverbs, mainly written and compiled by King Solomon, are replete with admonitions that place the desire for riches and wealth in a proper, godly perspective. Taken together, they advocate patience, diligence, hard work and trust in God as preparatory steps toward success.
Here are 12 of them:
• "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing" (Proverbs 10:2).
• "He who has a slack hand becomes poor; but the hand of the diligent makes rich" (Proverbs 10:4).
• "The labor of the righteous leads to life" (Proverbs 10:16).
• "The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it" (Proverbs 10:22).
• "He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding" (Proverbs 12:11; compare 28:19 below).
• "Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase" (Proverbs 13:11).
• "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble" (Proverbs 15:16).
• "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty; but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5).
• "The borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7).
• "Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven" (Proverbs 23:5).
• "He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough" (Proverbs 28:19; compare 12:11 above).
• "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me" (Proverbs 30:8, King James Version).
These biblical principles, expressed in differently worded proverbs, show us how to handle our material blessings in ways that lead to a better life, both materially and spiritually.
Gambling is not the answer to our material woes. God is! He teaches us a way of life that includes planning, hard work and real enjoyment. A more complete account of how we can implement biblical laws and principles is found in our free booklet, Making Life Work.
Also, if you are in debt (or even if you are not), please ask for our free companion booklet, Managing Your Finances. Following its advice will put you on the road to getting out of debt and taking control of you money. Both publications are available in print or online. Ask for both!
(This article was originally published in the July/August 2006 issue of The Good News.)
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