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A Pastor's Perspective on Gambling Casinos

By approving a municipal services agreement to bring an Indian gambling casino to the city of Ridgecrest, our city is joining a national trend:

  • 62% of Americans now think gambling is morally acceptable
  • Four decades ago, two states had legal gambling and 48 states outlawed it. Today, 48 states have some form of legal gambling. Only Hawaii and Utah do not.
  • Approximately 85 percent of Americans have gambled at least once in their lives; 60 percent have gambled in the previous year.
  • Americans now spend more on gambling than on sports tickets, books, video games, movies, and music combined

But my concern is not merely political, social, or economic.  My concern is: What does God think about gambling?  I’m not ashamed to turn to the Bible for the answer to that question: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I know that people often object by saying, “Don’t impose your morality on us!”  But in a public policy issue like whether or not a Native American gambling casino should be in our city, one side’s morality will be imposed on the other side.  It’s inescapable.  The question is: which side’s moral argument will carry the day?

So, what does the Bible say about gambling?  Well, nothing explicitly.  There is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not gamble.”  But that’s not the end of the story.  There are also no Bible verse that explicitly mention by name “abortion,” “pornography,” “racism,” or “nuclear war.”  But just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention a particular subject doesn’t mean that it has nothing to say on that subject.  The Bible is a big enough book the way that it is!  So, let’s examine the issue of gambling in the light of subjects that the Bible does talk about.

  1. Gambling exploits the love of money

The Bible says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10); “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

“The love of money” means greed; a controlling desire for money.  The love of money and covetousness are closely related, which the 10th Commandment forbids: “You shall not covet.”  In Colossians 3:5, the Apostle Paul calls Covetousness idolatry.  The whole point of gambling is the love of money.  People are lured into buying lottery tickets and gambling in casinos because they might get rich quick.  How many high rise hotels would be in Las Vegas if the games were played only for fun?

Objection: What about the love of money in capitalism?  For example, Michael Douglas’s movie character who famously says, “Greed is good.”  As Christians, we should follow the Bible and oppose greed in any form, and the fact that we don’t is a valid criticism.  But a legitimate desire to earn a wage, a reasonable profit, or a reasonable return on an investment is not necessarily greed.  God portrays Himself as looking for a reasonable return on the talents that He’s invested in us.  God is not greedy in expecting a return on His investment.  John Wesley’s advice still holds true: “Make as much money as you can; save as much money as you can; give as much money as you can.”

  1. Gambling short-circuits the biblical work ethic

Gambling not only exploits the love of money, it exploits people’s naïve lust to get rich quick.  Instead of years of working and sacrificing to get an education or a skill, grow a career, save money, make informed investments, or run a business, it’s very alluring to get rich quick by hitting the jackpot.  But that’s not the way that God instructs us to gain wealth:  “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28); “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10); “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4).

What about the stock market?  For some people, the stock market is a gambling addiction, which is sinful.  But in and of itself, investing in stock is not gambling.  Risk does not equal gambling.  Work produced the original investment.  Investment typically enables work.  And, those investors who are the most successful are usually the most hard-working.

  1. Gambling is a form of stealing

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).  Taking something without permission is only one definition of stealing.  Webster’s.com defines stealing as, “to seize, gain, or win by trickery, skill, or daring.”  In order for someone to gain in stealing, someone has to lose.  Stealing is not a win-win scenario; it’s a win-lose scenario.  It’s the same way with gambling, especially casino gambling.  In order for the casino to make money, gamblers on balance must lose.  That’s why casinos entice people to gamble more because the more people gamble, the more they lose and casinos can only survive if gamblers lose.  Consider slot machines, for example.  “Why Casinos Matter: Thirty-One Evidence-Based Propositions from the Health and Social Sciences” by the Institute for American Values, a non-partisan study group of experts and academics from universities across America states: “The new American casino is primarily a facility filled with modern slot machines [the casino coming to Ridgecrest will have 349 slot machines].  A modern slot machine is a sophisticated computer, engineered to create fast, continuous, and repeat betting.  Modern slot machines are carefully designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose.  Modern slot machines are highly addictive.  Modern slot machines are engineered to make players lose track of time and money.”  No wonder they’re called “one-armed bandits”!

  1. Gambling hurts poor people.

John Kindt, a business administration professor at the University of Illinois who studies gambling: [lotteries are like a gateway drug to creating new addictive gamblers] “The bottom line is a lot of this gambling is directed toward the poorer segments of society who are spending proportionally more…We are making poor people poorer.”  Professor Kindt is not alone in his assessment.  “As a consequence [of government-sponsored gambling], women, low-wage workers, and retirees are contributing a disproportionate share of states’ take of casino revenues. As states become ever more dependent on casino revenues as a substitute for more progressive sources of revenue, they are trapped into a regressive policy of taking from the less affluent and rewarding the more affluent” (Why Casinos Matter).  The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that “the poor bet a much larger share of their income.”

The Bible teaches that we should not support public policy that basically steals from poor people: “Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them” (Proverbs 22:22-23).

  1. Gambling is poor stewardship.

Gambling is a money-losing venture for the gambler.  According to the Economist Magazine, in 2013 Americans’ gambling losses totaled $119 billion.  The average American loses almost $400 per year to gambling.

Many people respond by saying, “It’s my money.  I can do with it whatever I want.”  But here’s where the Bible confronts our self-indulgent assumptions: everything we have, including our lives, our time, and our money, ultimately belongs to God.  John Piper: “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!”

  1. Gambling is bad for the economy.

The casino will probably boost the local economy in the short term: Construction costs, new jobs.  The tribe will pay the city direct fees totaling about $500,000 per year for 20 years ($10 million total).  The developer projects that the casino would bring in 65,000 visitors annually spending $125-$225 daily, averaging more than $11 million annually. The projected 180 new jobs with an average annual salary of $38,500 would also result in nearly $7 million.  However, in the long term: “Casinos extract wealth from communities.  Casinos typically weaken nearby businesses.  Casinos typically hurt property values in host communities” (Why Casinos Matter).

Therefore, the economic benefits of the casino will be like offering pure white sugar to a starving person: there will be a short term sugar high but no long term nutritional value.

  1. Gambling violates the Biblical role of government

According to Romans 13:1-4, God instituted civil government to protect people from those who would harm or exploit them.  But think about how government-sponsored gambling relates to this God-given role of civil government. “State regulation of casinos creates a conflict of interest, in which the state is charged with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is co-sponsoring.  State governments are caught in a classic conflict of interest between their desire for more revenues and their responsibility to prevent harms to the public from unfair or exploitative practices…States have raced ahead to locate commercial casinos in struggling communities and to extract revenues from citizens in those communities” (Why Casinos Matter).

In summary, a gambling casino in Ridgecrest will be detrimental to the community’s moral climate and local economy.  As a pastor, I am concerned about the negative effects of the proposed casino on young professionals and military personnel who work on the base as well as young people in our community.  The proposed casino, on balance, will harm rather than help our community.