Gambling has become pervasive in modern society. It is so endemic that people rarely spend a moment wondering whether it is morally good, bad or indifferent.
This past week numerous articles appeared about multi-million dollar bets and the stunning amount waged on the final game of the NFL season. And, a day after the game is played, the odds for next season’s winner are already online.
The Super Bowl is traditionally the biggest annual sports betting event in the United States. But it’s only one of many events where the legally gambled totals are stunning.
It is estimated that Americans wager over $150 billion dollars per year on sporting events, and even more is bet on legally [on events] around the world.
Naturally, the World Cup – with its global audience – trumps the sum gambled on American football.
In the United States, opportunists created state-sponsored lotteries, presumably to fund worthy causes like education. Today most of these are taken for granted as a stable revenue stream (not always for their promised purpose).
And we haven’t even factored in the casual or unsanctioned gambling that takes place.
In many gambling situations, wagers are made between friends, for minor amounts. In such cases there seems to be little reason for concern. Perhaps it is about willpower and moderation.
However, there are some cases where people wager large amounts – far beyond what they can “afford” to lose. And in such cases, something dangerous is afoot. In the worst cases, people can lose everything they own. Even worse, innocent members of their families frequently suffer.
These are the people for whom Gamblers Anonymous exists. The organization “is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.”
Recent brain research has confirmed a genetic element and that “gambling addiction triggers the same brain areas as drug and alcohol cravings.”
The grim truth, you see, is that gaming businesses are not the fun, innocent entertainment industry they claim to be. Gambling enterprises don’t rely on casual bettors for their profits. It’s the people who cannot resist making just one more bet, who fund their rich coffers.
And, while technology may make some gambling more appealing, it’s dangers were recognized centuries ago.
By the time George II came to the throne in 1727, Britain was a nation addicted to gaming. The capital was fit to burst with gaming houses, where play continued round the clock . . . A game named Hazard was one of the most popular games, and also one of the most aptly named, since there were hazards aplenty in playing.
Squeezed around a large, circular table, a player could easily win or lose an entire fortune in a single night, since large stakes were wagered on each throw of the dice, and four-figure losses were not uncommon. No amount of skill could improve the odds of winning at Hazard, either. . .
It was a highly addictive game too; payouts and losses came quickly, and so the atmosphere around the table was always one of fevered anticipation.
But is Gambling a Sin?
The fact that gambling can destroy families and lives suggest that it is not morally ambiguous. But, is it a matter of degree, rather than a right or wrong?
To answer that question, people of Christian faith look first to the Scriptures. The Bible speaks a great deal about money, but very little that relates directly to gambling. Most people are well acquainted with the biblical warnings that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” The rest of that verse describes the troubled state of people who have surrendered to its power.
It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Timothy 6:10).
Beyond the cautions about being tempted by money, gambling is not expressly addressed. Nevertheless, this essay offers a thorough discussion of the subject, and is worth reading.
What did C.S. Lewis Think?
C.S. Lewis had an excellent hermeneutic, or approach to interpreting the Scriptures. He believed that Jesus’ disciples should do what God’s Word tells us to do, and avoid what it instructs us to avoid. Pretty simple, right? Too bad we find that model so challenging to follow.
Because the Bible is essentially silent on the practice, Lewis applied his reason, and his personal experience to the matter when he was asked about it. In a collection entitled “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” he offered a very practical response.
Gambling ought never to be an important part of a man’s life. If it is a way in which large sums of money are transferred from person to person without doing any good (e.g., producing employment, goodwill, etc.) then it is a bad thing.
If it is carried out on a small scale, I am not sure that it is bad. I don’t know much about it, because it is about the only vice to which I have no temptation at all, and I think it is a risk to talk about things which are not in my own make-up, because I don’t understand them.
If anyone comes to me asking to play bridge for money, I just say: `How much do you hope to win? Take it and go away.’ (God in the Dock).
An Inkling Postscript
J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate faced an ethical challenge when Warner Brothers, one of their licensees, abused their rights and created “online games, slot machines and other gambling-related merchandise based on the author’s books The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.”
Tolkien’s estate had accused the defendants of violating a 1969 agreement allowing the sale of “tangible” merchandise, by associating the books with the “morally-questionable (and decidedly non-literary) world of online and casino gambling”.
It said this “outraged Tolkien’s devoted fan base” and irreparably harmed the legacy of the English author, who died in 1973 at the age of 81.
Since the Chronicles of Narnia were written for children, they are less susceptible to such abuses. But, wherever a dollar can be made (or won) the possibility exists they could also be misused to that end.