Sunday, May 13, 2007


In a recent report a study showed that gambling has become a $40 billion dollar a year industry in the United States. With the rise of State sponsored lotteries, Indian tribes building casinos, and more and more money being wagered on sporting events, the National Institute of Mental Health concluded 4.2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, 60 percent of whom have yearly incomes under $25,000.

All of this is harmless fun, right? After all, churches have been sponsoring raffles and bingo nights and even “casino nights” to raise money for years. So there’s really nothing wrong with a little gambling now and then, is there?

As usual, the answer is both yes and no. To occupy the extreme on either end of the issue is to both miss the point and to avoid the real dangers. The extremes represent the “easy” way out.

The real danger is the weakness of the human soul, not the gambling itself. The sad reality is that many times those who can afford it least are gambling in hopes of “hitting the jackpot” and “getting rich.” But the stories of big lottery winner ruining their lives are by now old news and getting “rich” quick is many times a recipe for disaster. But Father, I’ll give a big check to the Church if I win! O, well, in that case it’s OK.

Seriously, there are three Christian principles that should govern our choices and behavior when it comes to betting and games of chance. They are:

Work is more Valuable than Chance. St. Paul told the Thessalonians that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The fact is since the Fall of humanity in the Garden so many years ago, humanity has been commanded by God to work the earth to gain a living. This gift of work is another way God has blesses humanity with the means of our salvation. It is in working with our own hands that we, like our Creator, bring out of the earth our sustenance and livelihood. Work breaks the power of both pride and laziness that robs a man of his worth and his talent.

Faith is Stronger than “Luck.” No matter what the pay off in a game of chance, our ultimate security and our future can never be satisfied with the roll of the dice. Listen to the words of our Lord Jesus to His disciples (that includes you and me): "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:28-33) God loves us. He knows what we need. He is more reliable than any bet.

Finally, Eternal Wealth is not measured in Money. In that same chapter in Matthew, Jesus tells us all to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20, 21) After all, we Christians believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, don’t we? If eternity is really at home in our hearts then we can never reduce our wealth to simple possessions or even the temporary comforts of today. No, our “riches” also include the wealth of spiritual blessings we have been given in our precious faith and in our eternal salvation. That’s what is truly valuable to us. A wise man invests in eternal things and doesn’t pin his hopes on cards and ponies.

Enjoying an entertaining weekend in Vegas is one thing, and wasting precious financial resources hoping to “hit it big” is another. My faith rests on a Savior Who loves me more than I, myself, know how to love, and it is that faith that is a “sure thing!”


Fr. Don said...

Thank you for posting the thought provoking piece. I would add one other dimension that fleshes out a bit the opposition some Christians have against Lotto/Casino gambling. As you have noted, those least able to afford a loss of income are the most likely to gamble large amounts of their income away. In a very real sense, this is a tax on the poor. The bible is obviously full of examples of the Lord condemning those who victimize the poor. The Evangelical "WWJD" applies here I think. I believe Jesus would be opposed to much gambling. Probably not the small stuff at the family reunion for fun, but he would be saddened to see the long lines at the convenience stores in the poor parts of town when the the lotto jackpot climbs to a stratospheric height.


Margi (juliansdaughter) said...

When I was young I knew a saintly Archimandrite, an educated man with degrees, who always said it was better to be a "skivvy" than not work. In my ignorance I dared think he was a snob. Twenty years later I know he had the truth; idle hands truly do the devil's work and I have done a lot of work "beneath" me but I made sure it was all kindness, care of the elderly and the chronically mentally ill, etc, and despite low pay and no social status, it was always blessing. As far as gambling goes, I have won $20 for an $3 investment in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and visited Las Vegas once with no desire at all to gamble. I know I'm trite but ever £ or $ one puts in a machine is food out of the mouth of someone somewhere. Christ said "give" not "gamble">

Catherine K. said...

In the old days I thought nothing of playing a slot machine or purchasing the occasional lottery ticket... which was before I became Orthodox and a former priest of mine put it in a very basic way - if you win something through gambling, you have stolen.

I didn't understand that statement, until I started paying more attention to those who fill up the lines when the various lotteries hit insane levels. Gambling was never a problem for ME - it was always quite rare and for tiny amounts of money.

Yes, any kind of work is better than not working, and just because all money looks the same, doesn't mean it IS.

I am very thankful for that old priest of mine who helped me to see the issue in a very different way with just a few short words.