I can’t even begin to count how many there are. I’m sitting there watching a football game. . . or a baseball game. . . or a basketball game. . . you name it. . . and I’m invited over-and-over again to engage in wagering money on outcomes, scores, and this-that-and-everything-else. When you step back and take a look and listen at what’s become normalized background noise, the sheer volume of never-ending invitations is overwhelming. Promises of happiness, wealth, and ultimately redemption are woven in-and-through a litany of verbal summons and smiling faces. . . not to mention the use of sexual seduction as an attention-getter.
Since today is the day that the college football bowl season commences and the NFL playoffs are right around the corner, I’ve decided to raise the issue of sports gambling and offer some food for thought as we work to navigate life to the glory of God not only for ourselves, but for the kids in our care.
Just how big is the gambling industry? We’re told that the annual worldwide gross gambling yield is higher than $400 billion, with gross gaming revenue of the gambling industry in the United States reaching almost $53 billion in 2021. Sports betting revenue last year in the U.S. reached over $4.3 billion. . . which leaves us wondering, how much higher will that number be this year? We’re also told that sports betting is 30% to 405 of the worldwide gambling market, with close to 505 of adults in the U.S. saying they’ve made a sports bet at least once in their lives.
With sports betting legalized by the the Supreme Court in 2018 and smartphones in the hands of almost all teens, we shouldn’t be surprised that kids are jumping in on the action. The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 60% to 80% of high school students report having gambled for money in the past year, and 4% to 6% of high schoolers are considered addicted to gambling. Yale Medicine reports that many gambling disorders begin, not surprisingly, during the impressionable years of adolescence. Maybe that’s why college students are gambling at higher rates than the general population.
At the level of personal and social costs, gambling is expensive. . . quite expensive. It’s estimated that gambling addictions cost almost $7 billion a year in the United States. Including addiction to gambling, the fallout extends to fueling crime, lost work time and decreased productivity, bankruptcy, poverty, depression, anxiety, suicide, illness, divorce, family breakdown, domestic violence, theft, etc. The ripples spread far and wide.
I’ve found Philip Graham Ryken’s thoughts on the spiritual implications of gambling. Christians need embrace a biblically-faithful theological perspective that not only informs their personal behaviors and choices, but which they can pass on to their kids as those kids grow up in a world that is doing everything it can to nurture them into a lifetime of gambling.
In his book My Father’s World: Meditations on Christianity and Culture, Ryken tells us that the church has long recognized the dangers of gambling. In the third century, Tertullian wrote that “if you say you are a Christian when you are a dice-player, you way you are what you are not, for you are a partner with the world.” In the same way, the framers of The Westminster Confession of Faith warned about the dangers of “wasteful gaming.”
Ryken goes on to say that gambling is a sin for a number of reasons. They are. . .
First, gambling denies God’s providence. God has promised to provide everything we need (Philippians 4:19). However, God doesn’t instruct us to gamble to get it. Rather, we are to work for it (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).
Second, gambling is bad stewardship of the resources we’ve been given. Ryken writes, “Everything that we are and have belongs to God (Romans 8:14; Psalm 24:1), and it has been given to us to meet our needs and to bring glory to God.” Our gambling puts what God owns at risk.
Third, gambling is stealing. Every time we gamble we are attempting to profit from someone else’s loss. Yes, people win, but there are also losers. . . who lose a lot more than the winners win. This is why the dictionary defines “gamble” as taking “a risky action in the hope of a desired result,” along with “a risk of loss and a chance of profit.”
Fourth, gambling is rooted in coveting. . . which is forbidden in the 10 Commandments. If you’re in it for the money, you’re coveting what you don’t already have.
Perhaps our sports viewing over the coming weeks should begin with a review of these words from Charles Spurgeon: “When a man takes to the gaming table, it seems as if his whole soul ran out at the sluice, and his entire life is just nothing to him. Wife, children, substance – all must go at the throw of the dice or be staked at the running of a horse.”
Yes, when it comes to gambling, there’s much at stake.