“Hi. My name’s Paul and I’m a compulsive gambler. It has been 40 days since my last bet. Forty days ago I didn’t realise I was a compulsive gambler. However, when I was confronted by my employer for embezzling, it finally hit me that I am and always will be a compulsive gambler.
“I’m currently attending and, for as long as I’m allowed, will continue to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings. I’ve lost a great career. I’m in the process of losing everything that I’ve worked for with the exception of my wife and two children. My father hasn’t spoken to me since this all occurred, and my older sister will do anything to help my wife and children, but she wants nothing to do with me. I can’t blame her.
“If someone had told me 27 years ago when I made my first wager that when I was 39 years old I’d lose everything and be in a place where there are no freedoms, I’d have told them they were crazy—I’m an intelligent person and I can control my gambling, that’s what I thought. The fact is that gambling took over my life and ruined it, and it ruined the lives of my family.
“It’s an insidious addiction. You do things that no rational person would do. You don’t think of the consequences, and I’m here to tell anyone who will listen that there are serious consequences for all of my horrible actions.”
Paul is hardly alone. Gambling is a serious problem for 80–160,000 Australians. For many of these, the compulsion is so powerful that health professionals label it pathological gambling, a condition as serious as substance abuse, depression and antisocial behaviours. Problem gamblers are more likely to abuse alcohol, to be absent from work, and to commit fraud or embezzlement. There’s also a strong link between compulsive gambling and suicide.
Unfortunately, defenders of legal gambling claim that it represents just another risk in the sense that “all of life is a gamble”. They argue that, just as the rest of life is filled with uncertainties—walking across the street, investing in the stock market, climbing on an aeroplane—so playing the slot machines or betting on a sports team is another way of recognising the randomness of things and hoping for the best.
Gambling is not a game
Although most major sports have gambling connections, gambling is not a game. It’s serious business, with millions of supporters and powerful lobbyists who consistently steer governments away from making effective gambling reforms, despite repeated calls from a whole range of church and community groups.
Legal gambling—lotteries, casinos, poker machines, sports betting—is available in every state of Australia as well as New Zealand. It’s believed that 80 per cent of Australian adults gamble—that’s 12.8 million people. And every year, Aussies gamble away nearly $A25 billion, making them the highest per capita gamblers in the world. In New Zealand the figure is more than $NZ2 billion; that’s more than the nation’s government spends on housing and community development combined.
Internet gambling’s potential is fuelled by the ease of participation and the same anonymity that has made online pornography so popular. When an activity with strong addictive potential is made available on a system that allows almost universal access, explosive growth is inevitable.
If one considers only the consequences suffered by problem gamblers and their families, that alone should make gambling a major social concern and raise questions about public responsibility. Should we oppose all forms of gambling? If not, what is a reasonable level of legal regulation?
Not so innocent
I personally oppose gambling for many reasons. It’s clearly not an innocent activity. Many people get hurt, and the lure of easy fortune affects the poor disproportionately. As with alcohol and tobacco, the evidence of gambling’s harm outweighs the enormous profits it generates.
Moreover, gambling operates on the basis of deceit. It downplays the minuscule chance of winning. Casinos don’t have clocks or windows, a design feature that encourages irresponsible decisions: it shuts out the world and obscures the passing of time. Many suspect that machines may be programmed for “near misses” to entice the user.
But the problem with gambling goes deeper. We could even see it as a spiritual or biblical issue. Consider these factors:
1. Gambling promises easy gain
There’s very little effort involved in gambling. It’s motivated by the chance of becoming rich by luck. In contrast, the Bible teaches us to invest our time and energy in labour that supplies our needs and those of our family. “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense” (Proverbs 12:11).
The apostle Paul summarised the work ethic of the Christian Scriptures: “Even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’ ” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
2. Gambling exploits the poor
Gambling is dependent on the losses of many for the benefit of one. These “many” are usually the poorest. For people in financial straits, gambling provides a false hope that sometimes prevents their taking positive steps toward a solution. This expectation of a miraculous turnaround keeps many on the path of financial irresponsibility.
3. Gambling misuses our God-given resources
The Bible tells us that we are stewards of God’s creation: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Jesus taught that we are to be held accountable as God’s servants (see Matthew 25:14–30). If the billions of dollars spent on gambling were used for the benefit of the poor—for better education and disease prevention, for instance—society would be much better served.
4. Gambling is founded on greed
Gambling is an attempt to obtain the resources of others without providing anything of real value in return. In a society that seems to value possessions above all else, it is not surprising that people may want to take shortcuts to get them. The tenth commandment prohibits believers from coveting another’s possessions (Exodus 20:17), and Paul spoke against the insidiousness of greed when he wrote, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10).
5. Gambling overlooks God
Finally, gambling opposes the principle of trusting God. It is motivated by our discontent with our material blessings and it leads us to trust other sources that are in direct opposition to the way God provides for us.
So what’s the lesson in all this? How should we respond to the problem of gambling? We should avoid it ourselves and warn others about its dangers. We should show concern for those struggling with gambling addictions. Because gambling addiction can rob a person of his or her ability to change their behaviour, treatment is absolutely necessary. Gambler’s Anonymous is a proven resource for group therapy, and certified counsellors are available around Australia and New Zealand.
As citizens we should do our research so that we’re aware of which corporations, parties, candidates and legislation encourage gambling. Shop and vote accordingly.
One of my favourite Bible verses since childhood is appropriate advice when tempted by gambling or any other compulsive behaviour: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
To get help for yourself or someone you know, contact: