ROULETTE, POKER, BLACK JACK, AND THE BIBLE
by Bro. T.F. Tenney
Now, I know that the four words in the title do not usually appear together. I have never been to a casino, but I doubt that there are Bibles on the tables in the lobby.
Gambling has come to America, despite a great public outcry against it. Over the past few years off-track betting parlors, the lottery, and now the advent of casino gambling have flooded the land. In Louisiana, casinos are being debated because they are constructed on tribal Indian lands on Avoyelles and Allen Parishes. In Missouri a state constitutional amendment to voters that allows games of chance at casinos was placed on the ballot for voters.
In grocery stores, gas stations, and “quick stops” across our nation there is a Friday afternoon line-up at the checkout as the family goes to lay out a sequence of numbers to try the big lottery, while perhaps purchasing $10 or $20 worth of scratch-and-win tickets. Some struggling single parents who have a few bucks left over after they pay for gas and groceries join the foray into the “Pick Three” nightly drawing.
So, what is wrong with gambling? People claim that the lottery has contributed large sums of money to city and state coffers. In Louisiana, they contend that riverboat gambling has brought increased revenues to the New Orleans area. (If they were honest, however, they would admit that some of the increase resulted from increased motel/hotel and food costs in that city.) But I will say again what I have said before: Something cannot be politically right if it is morally wrong. Casino gambling, the lottery, off-track betting, or on-track betting will not pass biblical principles.
Far more than economic revenue is at stake when gambling is the issue. There appears to be economic benefits to the community. But these supposed advantages will never compensate for the detrimental effects on the social order in the community. Inevitably the fallout from the advent of gambling will be broken homes, blighted lives, criminal activity, twisted values, social decline, and moral corruption. U.S. News and World Report carried an interesting assessment of the issue by Harry Reid, chairman of the Nevada Gambling Control Commission: “Any state trying to follow Nevada’s lead will find that social costs far outweigh any economic benefits.”
Gambling was not a widespread mania during Bible times. There was not an off-track betting parlor on the outskirts of Bethany. There was no riverboat gambling on the Jordan. However, God’s Word does, as one writer put it, “condemn the substitution of Lady Luck for divine guidance.” God stands in opposition to those, “who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny” (Isaiah 65:11, RSV). The deities mentioned here, Fortune and Destiny, were the pagan gods of Fate who served as symbols of good luck and bad luck. Proverbs 13:11 (Living Bible) states: “Wealth from gambling quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows.”
When gambling is legalized, its image is changed but not its character. Gambling will always be basically dishonest and deceptive. While it has been made to appear respectable in some circles, it is no more honorable than a dice game in a back alley.
Probably the most notorious incident of the crass wickedness of gambling occurred at the foot of the cross. In the light of Calvary, then and now, every sin is exposed for its true color. While Jesus Christ gave His life’s blood for human redemption, Roman soldiers gambled under His feet. While He was giving His very life’s blood to save them, they were casting lots for His seamless robe.
It happened before He died, not afterwards. He could watch their crass greed. The last thing He saw before His Calvary sacrifice may have been a game of gambling. Think of this terrible paradox! While Jesus was giving all He had, they were taking all they could. In fulfillment of Scriptures, “They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (Matthew 27:35).
A prominent layman in a Baptist church in Louisiana shared an insight from his former pastor, who observed that the Bible condemns gambling in the final prohibition of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not covet.” All gambling is a form of covetousness, avarice, and greed.
Again, we ask, what is really wrong with gambling? One writer answered that question quite simply: “I wish to remind you that gambling is wrong because it violated the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the work ethic, personal dignity, and social justice. There is a difference between a wasteful pastime and a sinister obsession. You realize that gambling is not a solution to our economic problems just an illusion of something for nothing.” Gambling is the god of illusion and of greed.
Gambling has become a multi-billion dollar industry or racket in this country. According to Forbes Magazine, the estimated income of organized crime from illegal gambling in one year alone was $30 billion. Some estimate that is only about half of what Americans wagered in that year. Do not these estimates show that gambling preys upon an unwary segment of our society, reaching into American life like the tentacles of a giant octopus?
Americans are learning the hard way that there is no free lunch. Those who subscribe to the old cliche of “something for nothing” will likely find it just the reverse in gambling. It is not something for nothing, but nothing for something. A gambler does not receive back what he invests in this sinister industry. Something troubles me deeply in my conscience: Why would a nation that claims to be interested in the welfare of all of its people dangle an illusive prize of a million dollar jackpot or perhaps twenty million before the minds of people who struggle to have enough to eat and to wear?
Who are the people most victimized by the gambling mania? Critics say that gambling preys on those who can afford it least-persons with low incomes. A study of Michigan players confirms “that people with less spend a bigger percentage of their small incomes on the lottery.”
What are the odds of people cashing in on a huge bonanza? According to Larry Braidfoot, of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission and who has researched legalized gambling for the last two years, very little is ever said about the tremendous odds against winning. Then he cites two current examples: “An official of the New York Lottery admitted the odds of being struck by lightning-one in two million-were better than the 3.5 million odds of winning that state’s recent 22.1 million-dollar jackpot.” The following information appeared in the recent lottery jackpot of 27 million dollars made national headlines, the odds were even greater-about one in nine million.”
The claims of gambling advocates of peace and prosperity are refuted by reports in national magazines. A report in U.S. News and World Report stated: “Legalized gambling, as it spreads from state to state, is not reaping the huge benefits expected from legalized gambling.” An article published in Business Week stated: “Legalized gambling is an ineffectual and inequitable way to raise revenues.” According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Legalized gambling just doesn’t work out as its proponents promise.”
Once the leaders drag the Trojan horse into a city, the fallout begins. Organized crime is attracted to the flow of gambling dollars. Such an opinion is confirmed by a statement from the Massachusetts Crime Commission: “There is considerable evidence to indicate that legislation of gambling represented a greater boom to the mob than prohibition.”
Is there a ink between organized crime and gambling? The answer is yes. Officials in this nefarious business will loudly protest that gambling is not associated with organized crime. But Seam McWeeney, chief of Organized Crime Section, Criminal Investigation Division, F.B.I., would not agree with such misleading propaganda. He states, “Gambling is among the major sources of revenue for organized crime. It provides the seed money for the drug traffic.”
What are some attending problems with gambling not mentioned by proponents? From extensive research done by the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation, comes the following information: “Unpaid bills, bankruptcy, embezzlement, employee pilferage, bad checks, and broken families often accompany gambling according to a number of sources including Dunn’s of Dunn & Bradstreet.”
A reporter for a prominent magazine was sent to Atlantic City to do a survey on what gambling had done to enhance that city. After collecting his baggage at the airport, the first person he saw and talked with was his cab driver. When he got in, he asked the driver, “What has gambling in Atlantic City meant to you?”
The man stopped the taxi turned around, look at him. “I’ll tell you what it’s meant to me. It’s turned my daughter into a hooker and my son into a pimp.” With those words, he turned around and drove on.
The story is yet to be told of the full effects of gambling on our beloved nation. But it should be noted that gambling will never substitute for good government, strong leadership, sound management, and honest work.
Brother Tenney is the district superintendent of the Louisiana District of the United Pentecostal Church. This was found in the Pentecostal Herald, August 1994, Pages 9-10.
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