At CVC, we try hard not to be legalistic Christ followers. We often say that what we are all about is a relationship with Christ and not rules, regulation, and rituals. Too many Christians are focused on the dos and don’ts and they miss the central message of the Bible – that Jesus has done everything to secure for us personal relationship with Him.
But I do think that Christ is displeased with certain practices that we ought to say “no” to.
And I believe gambling is one of them.
I know that most people who gamble do so for a few laughs, for fun. But having played my first year of professional baseball for the Minnesota Twins organization in Reno, Nevada where gambling is big business, I saw first hand how “fun” gambling can get out of hand and be very destructive to people. I had teammates who wasted paychecks and ruined their baseball careers because of the lifestyle that goes with gambling.
Now, as a pastor, I see up close and personal the devastation it has caused many families in our own church. I’ve heard stories about men in our church who have torn up their families because of addictions to gambling. I know a man who almost destroyed his family because he couldn’t drive by a Convenient Mart without stopping to buy lottery tickets. I know a man who almost destroyed his finances and family because of betting thousands of dollars each week on NFL games. I know a man who is an absentee husband and father because of his addiction to betting on races at Northfield Park.
A few years ago, a young leader, Rob Walgate, from the American Policy Roundtable spoke at our church. He had gone into debt $30,000 by the age of 20 because of gambling. His life was being threatened because he had no way to pay.
I have a pastor friend whose son became addicted to internet gambling and ended up robbing a bank to pay off his gambling debts, something that was on the local and national news.
I am absolutely convinced that gambling is not a victimless, innocent diversion. I hate what gambling can do (and has done) to people and to families.
I know that the casino isn’t promoting “addictions” to gambling. I know that it’s supposed to be just a way to have a few laughs and enjoy a night out on the town. But I think about gambling this way: You’ll never be addicted to gambling if you never place your first bet – even if it’s an “innocent” diversion.
As a parent, I do not want to innocently, unthinkingly introduce something to my child that might turn out to be something that he will grow up to embrace and one day find that it has mastered him. The same principle can be applied to gambling. I don’t want to create a stumbling block for anyone. If my kids see me gamble and they then think that it’s OK because I do it and then they get “hooked,” I will have unwittingly participated in their downfall.
I think gambling compromises some key principles for followers of Christ.
1. It demonstrates a mistrust in the sovereignty of God. Followers of Jesus don’t depend on luck and chance, but on a loving Sovereign God who cares for them.
2. It violates principles of stewardship. Proverbs 12:11 says, "The one who works his land will have plenty of food, but whoever chases fantasies lacks sense" (HCSB). God uses work and responsibility to care for his own.
3. Gambling is rooted in covetousness and feeds greed and materialism. I Timothy 6 tells us to be content with what we have and to be free from the love of money.
4. It is often prompted by selfishness, not selflessness. Martin Luther once said, “Money won by gambling is not without self-seeking and love of self is not without sin.”
5. It puts us in jeopardy of being mastered by something other than Christ. I Corinthians 6:12 says clearly that we ought not be mastered by anything other than God’s Spirit.
6. It is poor stewardship. Count on it. The gaming industry is going to win more than it loses. So, a gambler might win in the short term, but very, very few will win in the long term. Therefore, gambling is a waste of God's money. Your money is really God's money. All of it! According to Matthew 25, He's entrusted it to you to manage for Him. You will be held accountable. Is gambling at the Horseshoe Casino really what you want to do with God's money?
7. Gambling hurts families. I know it's socially acceptable in our culture. But as stated above, I've personally seen it hurt families - particularly wives and children - at CVC. And because of the hurt it causes, it's a form of injustice. Micah 6:8 says we are to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Refusing to participate in gambling and speaking out against it are ways to obey Micah 6:8.
I have found that many people have not thought through issues like gambling. We just “go along to get along” and never stop to ask, “What’s really right in God’s sight and what’s wrong?” I believe that if more people saw what I see in the lives of others who gamble, they might see gambling as a really big problem. God says "No" at times not because He's mean and vindictive, but because He has a better "Yes" for us.
A spiritual leader once wrote, “Thirty years ago, gambling was widely understood in the culture to be addictive, progressive and dangerous. Parents taught their children about its evils… More recently, however, betting has been given a face-lift by the industry -- even changing the name from gambling to 'gaming.' The effect of this relentless propaganda has been dramatic. Most Americans now think of gambling not as a vice or unsavory habit, but as harmless entertainment.”
Let's make sure we are not "holier-than-thou" people. We aren't to expect non-believers to act like followers of Christ. We are not to be critical, judgmental, and harsh. We should winsomely seek to build bridges to reach out in love to gamblers and people in the gaming industry. We are missionaries cleverly disguised... We know that we have plenty of areas in our lives that need attention. Jesus said for us to take the beam out of our eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye. But after we take out the beam, let's join Jesus in seeking to save.
And when it comes to gambling, let's develop some deep personal convictions.
Love gamblers. Love them all the way to Jesus! But don't gamble. And don't say, "It's no big deal." For the sake of trust in God and love for others, just say "No!" And help others say "No," too.
Questions: What do you believe God says about gambling in general? What might He say about the Horseshoe Casino in particular?