It’s normal for people to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life – food, chocolate, alcohol, smoking or whatever ‘floats your boat’, as they say, but one of the most pernicious habits is gambling. Apparently, over half the population has participated in some form of gambling in the past year – and that can lead to a lot of problems. It’s not just the odd flutter we’re talking about here but the sort of gambling that completely takes over your life and can lead to addictions and major life problems.
Once gambling becomes compulsive, it leads to the person needing to keep replicating the habit to maintain the excitement, no matter what the harmful consequences may be. It’s closely tied up with a person’s emotions and leads to a detachment from their surroundings to become part of the game.
Arguably, even the addiction of some children and young adults constantly using home computers and games machines could lead to an unhealthy compulsion to win every time. Who knows where this could lead to in the future?
In many cases, winning money becomes immaterial to the actual experience. The compulsion may have roots in adolescence and may become an issue later in life. Advancing technology, the highly-addictive nature of certain products and on the onslaught of gambling-related media and advertising is apparently leading to an epidemic in gambling which society has never seen before.
Recognising the warning signs is the first step in seeking help for one’s self or others. Things to look out for can include spending more money and time on gambling than you can afford; finding it hard to manage or stop the gambling. Also having arguments with family or friends about money and gambling; losing interest in usual activities or hobbies and neglecting work, family and personal needs/responsibilities.
In addition, there is an intensity of always thinking or talking about gambling; lying about your gambling to get out of financial trouble; gambling until all your money is gone; borrowing money, selling your possessions or not paying bills in order to fund the gambling; needing to gamble with more money or for a larger period of time to get the same feeling of excitement; feeling anxiety, worried, guilty, depressed or irritable.
Fortunately there’s a lot of help out there for the gamblers themselves if they want to break the compulsion or for family and friends trying to help them (see Signposts below). Graham, as a Christian minister, has the bible got a take on this type of situation?
Rev Graham relies:
This is an interesting question to ask me, Carol, and you have covered many of the points that are experienced by those involved in gambling and affected by it. Personally, I have never had an individual or shared bet in my life. When I was a student I worked at Aintree during the Grand National and witnessed the magnificent horses, brave riders and the exuberant sound of excited punters all hoping that their horse would be the first past the post.
I have attended many other sporting events and activities where gambling would take place but I haven’t felt the need to have a flutter. As you have alluded to, Carol, there are many forms of gambling which include the lottery, slot machines, horse/dog racing, sweepstakes, roulette wheels, poker, bridge, raffles, flipping a coin, and many more.
At this point I thought it would be very insightful to interview a friend of mine who has been involved in gambling all their life and to ask what value or harm it has been to them individually and if it may be considered an evil or disease within society.
My friend gambled mainly on the horses and was introduced to it by his uncle and his father was extensively involved in it as well. The first bet took place at the tender age of 8 via his uncle and then from 13 years via a friend’s dad. I then asked what it was like to have a first big win and loss which was one of “elation and depression.”
I asked if betting could be considered a skill or just a game of chance. “Any gambling on the machines is pure chance and with horse racing it is a mixture of skill and chance.” Interestingly he said the addiction wasn’t “the money won, it was the loss that causes people to then gamble again,” and brings debt, shame and suicidal intentions.
We talked about gambling in general and I asked if it was good or bad for the individual and society and could it be deemed as a sin. He considered that “it wasn’t a sin”, more of a social activity, but wasn’t good for those who got addicted to it and how it affected their families and society generally. I asked about how gambling is marketed and the role of government. He condemned the use of advertisement on a broad basis that “promised joy but was inadvertently promoting addictive behaviour that ruined people’s lives.” In conclusion I asked what advice he would offer to anyone thinking about a life of gambling – “Don’t do it.”
In reflecting on my friend’s comments, we may conclude that, in part, gambling may be considered a vice which affects the individual and society but it can also be considered a hobby or interest that brings passion, excitement and entertainment to many and is worthwhile.
You have asked, Carol, what does the bible have to say about gambling and we may think about what opinion the church may have on the issue as well. The bible does not comment particularly about gambling but we have an example of the soldiers at the foot of the cross rolling a dice to compete for Jesus’s clothes!
There are a variety of opinions on gambling within and outside the church that range from outright Acceptance and Moderation, that includes safeguards, and complete Abstinence. In essence, the bible seeks to widen the debate by referring to the intention and attitude behind any gambling that takes place as the following verses indicate:
- ‘Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have.’ Heb 13: 5
- ‘Do not covet’ – your neighbour. As found in the tenth commandment. Exodus 20: 17.
- ‘Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.’ Matthew 6: 21
- ‘Wealth gained hastily will dwindle but whoever gathers little by little will increase.’ Proverbs 13: 11.
- ‘The love of money is a root of all evils.’ 1 Timothy 6: 9 – 10
Another aspect to think about is the contrasting aims in regards to contentment and discontent. Godliness and contentment is great gain compared to worldliness with discontent that may bring misery. People gamble to get money from others because they want more than they already have. Gambling is based upon chance and that can be viewed contrary to God’s personal and social ethics related to work. Gambling promotes an attitude of ‘something for nothing’ and the importance of material gain over contentment.
It is true that all of us are constantly looking to increase and maintain our wealth so as to live and thrive the best we can. It is said that there are three main ways to gain an income. One is by contractual working. Two is by the exchanging and bartering of goods. A third way is when we receive gifts and inheritances from loved ones. The bible condemns gaining money by cheating, stealing, lying and taking money that belongs to others. There are many negatives that gambling brings to society which you have referred to including problematic and addictive behaviour leading to excessive debt, broken relationships and family breakdown which weaken society in general.
It is quoted that St Augustine said, “The Devil invented gambling.” If we say that gambling is a sin it has to be related to how individuals see the concept of sin affecting an individual and society. John Wesley, in his sermon ‘The Use of Money’, felt that gambling was divisive and is a means of gaining money at the expense of others and inconsistent with love of our neighbour.
As Christians, we are encouraged to love our neighbours and care for the poor. Gambling exists on the basis of a winner and a loser and we may place ourselves above another who is the loser. It is often said that the only winner in gambling is the bookmaker and it has within it a culture of greed that grows alongside a spirit of covetousness which may be classed as consensual theft.
For some Christians gambling may be permissible on four fronts:
What is gambled must be freely offered and risk-assessed so that any family needs are still met and nobody should gamble another’s money without the consent of that person.
The gambler must be free to gamble without any unjust compulsion to do so.
There should be no aspect of fraud taking place in any transaction.
There must be some form of equal playing so that no expert may take advantage of a novice.
It is claimed that if an individual can handle the above constraints then it may be fine to gamble but, if not, then the advice would be to abstain completely. There is also the issue of what example we offer to those observing our behaviour and may follow with, or with not, being able to handle gambling in all its forms. For some people they have a talent for gambling which can be seen in the selling of stocks and shares as well as gambling in general and making a professional living out of it.
Some churches use bingo and lotteries to raise money for charitable purposes and social interaction. The Lord wants us to use our wealth wisely for personal gain and for the benefit of others and not to misuse it in any way. If we neglect our time and money then it may be considered a sin against the best wishes God has for us. For all the good attached to gambling there is the bad which includes poverty, crime, corruption, demoralization of ethical and moral standards, a lower living standard and lots of misery.
As we think again about Jesus on the Jesus on the cross, the criminals alongside him decided that he was either a winner or a loser. The centurion proclaimed “Surely this was a righteous man”, while the soldiers were just interested in getting and selling his clothes to make money.
We all make choices and do not fully know if we have backed a winner or loser. In faith we choose the Lord to guide and provide, to give us a deep joy and purpose and, like the believing thief, to one day enter into Paradise.
So, Carol, gambling has and always will be with us and presents difficulties, alongside joy for many. It seems that in the Protestant tradition, legal or illegal gambling is wrong. Many within the Catholic church and other traditions feel that gambling isn’t a moral question at all and, under constraint, is acceptable. I think we all hedge our bets in one way or another according to our understanding of the bible, church tradition and the prevailing social and moral status quo. For further reading on gambling you can consider the following statements from:
Premier Lifeline – National Christian Helpline Tel 0300 111 0101
Free and confidential advice and support is available in Greater Manchester:
NHS Northern Gambling Service – Tel: 0300 300 1490 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beacon Counselling Trust – Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: email@example.com
National Problem Gambling Helpline – Tel: 0808 8020133 free or 020 7801 7000 or
Gamblers’ Anonymous North West – Tel: 07974 668999 or firstname.lastname@example.org
GAMFAM charity for families affected by gambling – complete their online contact form.
Gordon Moody – national gambling charity – Tel: 01384 241292.
Samaritans – Tel: 116123
Hope Line UK from Papyrus – if under 35 – Tel: 0800 068 4141.