"Gambling - a Bad Bet"

February 18, 2007 1Tim.6:6-16

An Attractive, Accepted Trap

A diabolical cancer has crept across our country in recent years. More than crept: exploded. That cancer is gambling. For many years, lotteries and gambling were frowned upon by the Canadian public. Then in 1967 a lottery was held to finance Expo 67. Another followed to support the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. The first government casino opened in Winnipeg in 1989, and by 1997, seven provinces had legalized permanent charity and/or commercial casinos. The cat was out of the bag. As reported by the Canada West Foundation, in Canada "There are now 87,000 gambling machines (slot machines and video lottery terminals), 33,000 lottery ticket centres, 60 permanent casinos, 250 race tracks and teletheatres, and 25,000 licenses to run various bingo, temporary casinos, raffles, pull tickets and other activities." [FIGURE 1 Gambling Availability by Province 2003-04; note Slots increase 52% in 4 years] Charities are now almost expected to use some element of chance and 'winning' as part of their fundraising; for example, think of the big prizes offered in the Cancer Society lottery: 10 grand prize winners, 3 of whom won a million dollars, 7 others each won a fancy car and $25,000 or more cash. Those of us on the YouthPark committee are aware of the temptation to apply for Trillium funding, though we know it comes from casinos; others on the committee innocently suggest a donated item be raffled off rather than auctioned.

Gambling falls under provincial jurisdiction in Canada. Because the provinces benefit greatly from gambling, it has become entrenched as a standard component of government funding. Over the past dozen years, the portion of Ontario's revenues derived from gambling has climbed steadily to nearly 4% [FIGURE 9, Gambling Revenues as a Percentage of Own Source Revenues 92/93-03/04]. "Gambling is still the single dominant sin tax revenue source" - providing nearly as much revenue as provincial fuel taxes [FIGURE 10, Comparative Sources of Government Revenue 94/95-03/04]. In 2005, provincial and territorial governments took in an estimated $6.84 Billion in net gambling revenue. That's just the net! In 2003-04, for example, the gross was actually 12.7 Billion. Ontario raked in 4.9 Billion, with expenses of 2.8 Billion, making a net profit of 2.1 billion or 42.5% - which is low compared to other provinces [FIGURE 2, Governemnt Run Gambling Revenues by Province, 2003-04]. A Canada West Foundation report notes, "Compelling arguments can be made that the provinces require these revenues to deliver programs." Translation: not only some individuals, but your government is addicted to gambling. There's a definite dependency, a habit that would be tough to kick. We as 'public' are hooked.

Take our local manifestation of this, the Trillium Foundation. Each year out of its over $2 billion net gambling profit, the Ontario government magnanimously hands over $100 million from casino revenues to the Trillium Foundation (sounds like a lot until you realize that's just less than 5%). Organizations apply for Trillium grants for all kinds of worthy causes. You might recognize some of these from the 2005-07 list of projects: $85,000 to Habitat for Humanity Huron County; $5300 to the Municipality of Huron East to replace the lights in the Brussels Arena; $21,500 to renovate the Monkton Optimist Club hall; $35,800 to the Brussels Optimist Club to repair the Dam and Park; $25,600 to Huron Hospice Volunteer Service; $58,200 to Huron United Way; $46,000 to Town & Country Support Services for physical fitness programs; $40,000 to Seaforth Lions to upgrade their pool; $34,800 to Ritz Lutheran Villa in Mitchell to attract new volunteers. Now, these are worthy projects - but do we have to resort to gambling to fund them? Not to mention the other 95% poured into provincial coffers!

As an industry, gambling is booming. Overall renues have grown from $1.7 billion in 1992/93 to $6.8 billion in 2005 - that's quadrupled in just a dozen years [FIGURE 5, Change in NET Gambling revenues by Region and Province, 1992-93 to 2003-04]. A Statistics Canada Fact-sheet notes employment in the gambling industry rose from 12,000 in 1992 to 42,000 ten years later. That's a lot of jobs! Perhaps you know someone who works in the industry. The same report notes "Gambling outpaced other industries" [FIGURE p.3 March 2003 Perspectives]. Do we have a winner here, or what?!

In short, then, in less than 20 years gambling has gone from being a back-room exception to a prominent part of the Canadian landscape. It's accepted, part of the system. We're 'mainlining'.

Wrong on All Counts

This despite how clearly gambling goes against the grain of God's revelation for how we're to live. Ronald Reno has written an excellent resource called "God and Gambling" which lists about 10 ways in which our newfound fad defies Biblical teaching. Let's look first at the spiritual, personal level. Most obviously, gambling at its most fundamental level is based on greed. Reno notes, "Gambling is founded on greed and undergirded by a "get-rich-quick" appeal. In a recent national poll, two-thirds of respondents stated that the reason they gamble is to win money. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:9-10a: 'People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.'" Jesus warned us against greed of any kind in Luke 12(15): "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Gambling has an element of idolatry, chasing a false god, showing a lack of trust in God to provide our needs. Paul says greed IS idolatry (Col 3:5). The Bible teaches we are to be content with the material blessings we receive from the Lord's hand. 1Tim 6:6&8, "But godliness with contentment is great gain...if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." V10 talks about 'love of money' being a root of all kinds of evil; how catastrophe follows when people are 'eager for money'. Loving God would suggest our eagerness ought to be for Him, content with His gifts. Php 4:11-12,19: "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want...And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Close to greed is covetousness, wanting what last month's prizewinner won. This breaks the 10th Commandment (Ex 20:17). Treasuring our neighbour's wealth instead of treasuring what God has for us in Christ. Jesus commanded in Lk 12(32-34), "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Gambling is evidence of an unsatisfied and rebellious heart. Reno comments, "Gambling is precisely the attempt to obtain the resources of others without providing anything of value in return. Some have rightly described gambling as consensual theft." (Stealing breaks the 8th Commandment - if you're keeping a tally.)

Stewardship is another issue. In Reno's words, "Christians are responsible before God for how they invest the resources entrusted to them, as the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes clear. In many cases, money spent on gambling is money that should have gone to provide for the well-being of one's family or the advancement of a worthy cause. In all cases, it is an unwise investment with an almost-certain negative return. More importantly, such spending propagates an immoral, predatory and exploitative industry." Don't pour down the drain what God's entrusted to you!

Gambling destroys character by eroding one's work ethic. Scripture teaches that work is good, we're to labour in order to supply our needs and those of our families. Sloth is bad (Prov31; 2Thess 3:10; 1Tim 5:8). Gambling appeals to our laziness in offering 'something for nothing'. Gambling advertising even belittles hard work and diligence.

Christians are to "avoid every kind of evil" (1Thess 5:22) - that would include environments such as gambling establishments, which are often host to other corrupting vices such as prostitution and drunkenness. Paul warned against us being misled: "Bad company corrupts good character" (1Cor 15:33). We are to flee temptation (1Cor 6:18; 2Tim 2:22).

That's just on a spiritual level, the relationship between you and God. Then there's the social level: gambling attacks our relationship with other people. Jesus commanded us, "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Mk 12:31). Reno states, "Gambling...is predicated on the losses, pain, and suffering of others. For one to win at gambling, others must lose. For many, the ramifications attributable to their gambling losses are profound. Families touched by a gambling addiction are at greatly increased risk for such negative outcomes as divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, and suicide."

Another angle is how the poor are especially exploited. Reno says, "Gambling preys on the desperation of the poor. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that those with incomes less than $10,000 spend more on lottery tickets than any other income group. High school dropouts spend four times as much as college graduates. Scripture exhorts us to look out for the poor and disadvantaged, and issues strong warnings against taking advantage of their plight." (Prov 14:21; 14:31; 22:16; Is 3:14f; Amos 5:11f; Zech 7:10a) StatsCan figures showed those households earning $80,000 or more which gambled in 2001 spent 0.8% of their income, while gambling households earning less than $20,000 spent 1.7% of their income on average - proportionately over DOUBLE what the rich spent.

And socially, gambling is anti-Christian in that it sabotages and subverts the role of government. Romans 13(1-5) shows the God-ordained purpose of government is to protect the welfare of the citizenry and suppress evil. Reno comments: "State-sanctioned gambling does the opposite. It victimizes many, especially the most vulnerable. It also condones - and even promotes - a vice that has historically been repressed specifically because of its inherent debilitating and corruptive nature." The Canada West Foundation report puts it this way: "Governments find themselves in a potential conflict of interest as both the providers and regulators of gambling. This dual role creates questions about the ability of governments to properly carry out both responsibilities. Profit maximization and public health goals would appear to be often incongruent."

Whatever way you look at it - spiritually or socially - gambling is wrong on all counts. It's a publicly-accepted affront to God, traditionally recognized as our Creator, Redeemer, AND Sustainer. It corrupts character of individuals, communities, and governments. With devastating results.

Plunging Into Ruin

Paul warned Timothy, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction...Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1Ti 6:9-10) We're getting enough of a history of gambling now on this continent that the "ruin...destruction...[and]griefs" are becoming well documented.

That 12.7 billion gross each year represents a sizeable hole in the economy (especially as offshore / internet gambling mushrooms, but that's a side issue). What does that look like in terms of expense to households affected? Canada West Foundation data shows per household spending on gambling climbed from $715 in 97/98 to $1,080 in 2003/04. That's more than spent on Reading materials, personal care, or education - a sizable chunk of household cash [FIGURE 12 Comparative Sources of Household Expenditure 2003]. Small wonder that consumer debt loads have increased in recent years and savings levels have declined. And this is just the average effect: what about problem gamblers? A 2005 study found that in Ontario 2.6% had moderate gambling problems and 0.8% had severe gambling problems. That translates to over 78,000 people with severe gambling problems alone. On average, that group alone spent 21% - over a fifth - of their personal income on gambling!

On a national level, studies put the at-risk and problem gambling rate at 6.3%, or about 1.2 million Canadians - as the Canada West report rephrases it, "roughly enough persons to fill a major Canadian city" [FIGURE 16: At Risk & Problem Gambling, 2002]. And what's being done to help these addicts? Ontario budgets $38.5 million for treatment, education, prevention and research activities. That's peanuts compared to the $248 million the province spends on marketing and promotion of its gambling activities. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) observes, "for each gambling addict in Canada, the various governments rake in approximately $3800 in profit while spending only $32 per gambling addict to provide resources and help to break the cycle of addiction." Less than a buck in a hundred of their profit. Treatment and recovery are NOT priorities!

The costs to society of our gambling habit are substantial. Problem gamblers are estimated to cost society $56,000 each when it comes time to take care of all the damage that gambling does to the individual, the family, and others. Dr John Kindt, professor of commerce and legal policy at the University of Illinois, asserts that for ever dollar of revenue generated by gambling, taxpayers must dish out at least 3 dollars in increased criminal-justice costs, social-welfare expenses, high regulatory costs, and increased infrastructure expenditures.

Gambling has undesirable criminal spin-offs. It's thought that 2 out of 3 problem gamblers commit crimes in order to finance their gambling such as embezzlement, forgery, fraud, and sometimes violence and robbery. There have been court cases of addicted gamblers stealing hundreds of thousands from their employers to feed their habits. Despite spending $59 million yearly to monitor casinos during their first three years in operation, Atlantic City jumped from fiftieth to first on the American per capita crime chart. Other businesses suffer from the introduction of gambling: in Atlantic City, 40 percent of the city's restaurants were forced to shut their doors in the decade following the introduction of casinos.

Relationships suffer. Each problem gambler negatively affects 10-17 people around them. Families are most immediately affected. In a survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members, 28 percent reported being either separated or divorced as a direct result of their gambling problems. The number of divorces in Harrison County, Mississippi, has nearly tripled since the introduction of casinos. The county, which is home to ten casinos, has averaged an additional 850 divorces per year since casinos arrived. That's a world of hurt! Often there's physical hurt as well, through abuse. In Indiana, a review of the state's gaming commission records revealed that 72 children were found abandoned on casino premises during a 14-month period. Children have died as a direct result of adult gambling problems. In Louisiana and South Carolina, children died after being locked in hot cars for hours while their caretakers gambled. Cases of child abandonment at Foxwoods, the nation's largest casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, became so commonplace that authorities were forced to post signs in the casino's parking lots warning parents not to leave children in cars unattended.

At its worst, this "trap" that plunges people "into ruin and destruction" can end in suicide. In Canada, approximately 200 pathological gamblers commit suicide each year, and for each death, five gamblers go to the hospital with self-inflicted injuries. Of the known problem gamblers, 18 percent have considered suicide, which is six times the number of non-gamblers who have had similar thoughts.

And these disastrous effects are not limited to adult gamblers. There is increasing cause for alarm as teenagers and children take up gambling. An article in The Citizen last week stated that young people have the highest rate of problem gambling at 6.9% of the population. One in 3 play poker for money at least once a year, compared to one in 20 in the general population. The number of 18-24 year-olds gambling online has jumped from 1.4% in 2001 to 5.5% in 2005. Focus on the Family reports that the average age at which youth begin to gamble is 11.5; and about 12% of teens are at risk of becoming serious gamblers.

Getting Help

Obviously, gambling is a bad bet. It's contrary to God's design for a life of faith, and it reaps all sorts of negative consequences both for the problem gambler and those associated with them. What can be done?

The EFC has put out a "Gambling Toolkit" which has some constructive ideas. It suggests, first of all, that we PRAY: for municipal and provincial governments, that they'd be freed from their own addiction to gambling revenues, and that they'd see gambling in terms of its true costs to society and not strictly in terms of maximizing profit; for individuals addicted to gambling and their families - that the community would acknowledge their struggles and support them as best possible, and that they'd be delivered from their addiction.

Other things we can do are become informed; network with other churches; write letters to officials (the toolkit includes a sample); raise awareness, such as presenting information to elected officials and attending municipal meetings where gambling's being discussed; and become involved in helping gambling addicts, such as by offering meeting space for recovery support groups, or providing financial counselling to those affected.

Friends of problem gamblers have a key role to play in helping addicts get help. The Responsible Gambling Council has developed the "Friends4Friends" campaign, hoping teens in particular will address the subject with peers who wouldn't normally listen to adults or the media.

Would you be able to spot a problem gambler if you saw one? Tom Raabe notes, "a pathological gambler will exhibit - but not necessarily admit to - at least five of the following ten behaviours: * Is preoccupied with gambling (i.e., preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble). * Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement. * Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling. * Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or relieving dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression). * After losing money gambling, often returns another day in order to get even ("chasing one's losses"). * Lies to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling. * Has made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling. * Has committed illegal acts (e.g., forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement) in order to finance gambling. * Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling. * Has relied on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling.

Whether you know such an individual or not, let's be praying for the Lord to work in their hurting lives to set them free; and ask Him to turn our country in the direction that pleases Him. Before the cancer spreads further. Let's pray.