Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Here in Michigan we have several casinos on Indian reservations. I've often thought of the many reasons why this is bad and wasn't able to condense them as ably as what follows. I found this on a friend's blog and decided to post it here:

John H. Leith, 2001, Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian: Collected Shorter Writings , ed Charles E. Raynal, Louisville: Geneva Press. On pages 208-13, there's a short article he wrote in 1956 titled, "Gambling--What's Wrong with It?." Here's a summary:

1. "Gambling encourages the belief that a man can enjoy the advantages of a prosperous society without making a significant contribution to that society."

2. "Gambling arouses false hopes and gives little in return."

3. "Gambling is parasitic by nature. It creates no new wealth and performs no useful service. At best, it merely redistributes wealth from ... the many ... to the few."

4. Gambling is an attempt "to escape responsible work..."

5. Gambling contributes to the breakdown of society. Gambling is associated with political corruption, bribery, violence and murder. "Gambling contributes to dishonesty." Many companies blame gambling for staggering percentages of losses of the company. It leads to "unpaid debts," and it has "corrupted sports."

6. Gambling may become an addiction and has done so to many people to the ruin of their lives.

7. Gambling is poor stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to you.

8. Community life is possible only when each person attempts to make a contribution to the general welfare. Gambling is an attempt "to take from the community while refusing to give anything in return."

9. We are our brother's keeper. Since gambling causes some to fall, we may not engage in it.

10. "Gambling does not help men become more Christlike. It aggravates human weakness. It stimulates greed and breeds covetousness."

An unknown early Christian wrote: "Do not be a dice-thrower but a Christian: cast your money on the table of the Lord at which Christ presides and the spectators are angels and the martyrs are present; and the patrimony which you are about to squander with that ruinous passion divide instead among the poor: lose your wealth to Christ."

A few years ago a friend tried to argue that gambling was no different than investing money in the stock market. I countered saying that investors don't buy stocks without doing some research. They are primarily interested in a good return and don't want to lose their principal. So, they invest with their eyes wide open to the risks.

On the other hand, those who gamble ought to know that the odds are stacked against them from the beginning. The reason that casinos can offer all sorts of perks is that they are making a profit by stacking the odds in their favor. Sure the casino pays out money but the operators know that they cannot be too generous otherwise they will go out of business.

I once heard someone define gambling as "legalized theft." That's what I told my friend and eventually they had a change of heart.


Joe said...

OK, I'll bite!

A few qualifications first. I'll stipulate that gambling probably causes more harm than good, and that most problems with gambling are intertwined with sinful impulses and behaviors. I'll also stipulate that full legalization of all forms of gambling would, at least at first, cause an increase in misery.

I find most anti-gambling arguments to be one-dimensional and failing to acknowledge or even distinguish the complicated aspects of the gambling problem. I believe such arguments weaken efforts to solve the problems created by gambling.

Do anti-gamblers think it's a sin to stick a dollar coin into a slot machine and see what happens? Is it possible that it's lawful (morally lawful) entertainment?

Are anti-gamblers against all gambling for everyone? Or just for those who gamble too much or gamble sinfully?

Do anti-gamblers make any distinctions among types of gambling situations? Are there any gambling scenarios analogous to using alcohol responsibly vs. tempting an alcoholic to resume drinking? Any scenarios analogous to smoking a pipe or cigar a couple times a year for enjoyment vs. smoking two packs of cancer sticks a day? Any analogs to indulging a sweet tooth vs. gluttony?

Is throwing $20 down on the roulette table worse than being lazy and leaving the lights on in your house which wastes money?

Can we really call gambling "legalized theft" in instances when it's voluntary by both parties and no deception is involved?

Final stipulation: I realize that all gambling addicts would rush to make arguments and pose questions like the ones I am making! But I can't help but think blanket condemnations and prohibitions make the gambling problem harder, not easier, to solve.


Dave Sarafolean said...


Great thoughts!

As I re-read the reasons given by this author I realized that they were probably intended primarily for a church audience. When applied to the broader culture they sound eerily reminiscent of the arguments for prohibition (which you rightly keyed in on).

I think that the 'legalized theft' analogy holds water as long as the casino refuses to reveals its odds. Would a person continue to play if they knew that there was a less than 5% chance of beating the house? I think that most people who gamble think that their chances are much higher than that.

I would agree that to put a dollar into a coin slot might not automatically be a sin. Conscience comes into play here (Romans 14) as it does with regard to tobacco, alcohol, TV, movies and a host of other topics.

Providentially I came across some old magazine clippings on gambling I had set aside for future reference but had never filed. See WORLD 1/11/03 (John Piper) and WORLD 9/27/03 (Andree Seu). Piper's article is particularly strong as he discusses the situation of a church in WV that accepted a man's tithe on his $170 million dollar Powerball payout. He writes, "The...pastors...who accepted Jack Whittaker's tithe...should be ashamed of themselves...Christ does not build His church on the backs of the poor. The engine that delivers His righteousness in the world is not driven by the desire to get rich. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not advanced by undermining civic virtue. Let the pastors take their silver and throw it back into the temple of greed."

Later in the article he quote Fr. Richard John Neuhaus from First Things, September 1991: "In a democracy, the need for popular consent to tax is a powerful check on government growth and irresponsibility. A government that raises money by encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses of its citizens escapes that democratic mechanism of accountability. As important, state-sponsored gambling undercuts the civic virtue upon which democratic governance depends."

What I find helpful in this is that Piper's initial line of reasoning is aimed toward the church (The City of God). His use of Neuhaus, is aimed towards the City of Man. Neuhaus' line of reasoning demonstrates how Christians can and should use natural law in the realm of politics and public policy. For the record Seu's article follows that line of reasoning too.