The Metamorphosis of Gambling

Gambling. This word would not raise an eyebrow in many conversations in the world today. Many people talk of a dream vacation in Las Vegas, which is the gamblers paradise. Almost every state in the U. S. has legalized gambling, except Utah and Hawaii. The lottery abounds. Indian casinos are mushrooming (most casinos have been built in the last five years). There is no lack of things to bet on, the list is long: horse races, dog races, sporting events.

With gambling so close and so prevalent, one can get hardened to it and even a Christian can start to think that gambling isn’t such a bad activity. Why is gambling becoming so accepted? Wasn’t gambling once associated with organized crime? Wasn’t it once considered as bad as heroine dealing? How did gambling’s image change from being a vice to being harmless entertainment?

There are many factors that have contributed to this change. Some say one way gambling’s image was changed was through the stance of the Roman Catholic Church on gambling. Throughout the depression the church used bingo, raffles and Monte Carlo casino nights as fund raisers. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (which is the official public affairs agency of the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania) in a statement written September 1, 1994 states: “the Catholic Church, according to its traditional theology, does not consider gambling to be intrinsically evil.”

Others consider WWII instrumental in changing a mass audiences’ opinion about gambling. With the stress and worry of war, many soldiers found gambling a relaxing recreation. In the military, the soldiers where sheltered from any ill effects of losing all their money, as the U. S. government was feeding, clothing and sheltering them and any immoral associations were reduced.

The most obvious way gambling’s image was changed was through a deliberate attempt in the early 1980’s by leaders in corporate gambling enterprises. They used mass marketing techniques to transform gambling’s image. Gambling used to be associated with the mob and its seedy underworld, and maybe gambling still conjures up that image in your mind; but, today gambling (especially casinos) are being heralded as family entertainment. Casinos are being built to which parents can take their children. The gambling industry knows if they can get the kids hooked early, they will be back as adults.

The U. S. government has also helped paint gambling’s mask of goodness by allowing the lottery, Indian casinos and riverboat gambling. Politicians cannot be impartial judges of gambling when lobbyists for gambling corporations finance many politicians re-election campaigns. This was evident from a January 15, 1996 U. S. News and World Report article entitled “Gambling Fever, Our Red- Hot Passion: are We Addicted?” The article showed that between Jan. 1993 and Oct. 1995, the Republican party was given $2 million dollars and the Democratic party $1.1 million from the gambling industry. If leaders in government are taking gambling enterprises’ money we should not be surprised when new casinos multiply.

And we do see gambling starting to take a strong foothold. Through these various means, Roman Catholic Church, mass media and even our own government, gambling has metamorphosed into an activity which is seemingly good and harmless.

As Christian young people we need to be aware of these types of transformations so that we aren’t deceived into thinking, “Gambling isn’t really that bad. Some people like to shop and spend money that way, I like to spend a few bucks at a casino.” Or: “Those poor people who get caught up in gambling and become compulsive gamblers. They have a disease.” Maybe we would become like so many Americans who say, “Gambling might not be O. K. for me, but I don’t care if my neighbor gambles.” A Christian will not be lured by these types of thoughts if he remembers that gambling is a sin because God calls gambling a sin.

The reformed position against gambling is that gambling violates the principles of Christian stewardship. We believe that nothing in this life is our own. Everything we have has been given to us by God. We must always ask ourselves how God would have us to use our houses, cars, food, clothing, money, and even our life so that we can better serve Him.

Many in the world do not have this view of life. They think that everything that they have belongs to them. To deny that all things belong to God is the root of covetousness.

God calls covetousness a sin and commands against this in the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet…” Motivating most gamblers is the lust for money, which is covetousness. Since covetousness is sin, gambling must be a sin also.

Gambling also violates the first commandment “Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” When one gambles, with every throw of the dice or flip of the cards, he is trusting in a false god, the god of “luck” or “chance”. Gambling is idolatry. The gambler, trusting in “chance”, is no different than Israel of old, which worshipped the golden calves.

Even worse than worshipping a false god is the idea that one is a god. Richard Rosenthal, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, considers omnipotence (to feel all-powerful) the central concept for an understanding of (compulsive) gambling. This means that a person caught up in gambling is trusting in himself. He thinks he is controlling his own destiny. To trust in ones self to be omnipotent — isn’t that making yourself god?

All that a Christian does can be evaluated with the instruction of the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, which reads: good works are only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory.” Put gambling through this threefold test. Does a gambler have a true faith in God or does he trust “chance”? Is gambling an activity which is in accordance with God’s law? We have seen that it is not in accordance with God’s commands as gambling violates the first and tenth commandments. Is a gambling done for God’s glory?

Gambling is a sin and like every sin there are effects. Even the world acknowledges this. They can see that gambling hurts the U. S. economy as gambling revenue is money that otherwise would have been spent on cars, clothes, food, lodging, restaurants, services, home sales, etc., and would have produced sales tax, business taxes, property taxes, etc. Gambling also produces social problems such as: compulsive gambling, increase in crime, impoverished people that the state will have to support through welfare. There are Americans which disapprove of gambling in our country because of these effects. As Christians we can agree with them, but ultimately we disapprove of gambling because it is an activity which God disapproves of in His Word.

Because Christians believe the Bible, we are distinct. The Bible establishes the rule for our lives. And although gambling might have seemed to transform itself from a maggot into a butterfly, we know that it does not fit in the mold which the Bible has for our lives. The world is constantly attacking our distinctive Christian lifestyle. We must be aware of the events and ungodly philosophies swirling around us. The image of sin might change, gambling might appear to be harmless, but we will not be deceived if we study God’s Word and believe it. ❖


Becky is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.