Social Consequences of Legalized Gambling

"Legalized Gambling: A Loser’s Game"

Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Dr. Edward Erwin

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by the many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

What’s wrong with going to a casino and losing a few hundred dollars on a slot machine? I can handle it. I am not addicted. It’s my entertainment money? What’s wrong with going to a horse race and betting several thousand dollars? "Go baby, Go!" Don’t rain on my parade. Gambling is exciting, and there’s such an incredible rush." "Somebody going to win; why shouldn’t it be you?" What’s wrong with buying a few lottery tickets? I can spare a few dollars each week. Besides, it helps our educational system. After all, it’s for the children. Out of 156 million received from the lottery in Kentucky, 24 million will go directly to education. The lottery has been so lucrative for the state of Kentucky that Governor Paul Patton opened up the debate in April about the possible expansion of gambling to 14 more land-based casinos. Recently, the Lexington Chamber of Commerce agreed to support a constitutional amendment and county level votes to allow video lottery terminals at the state’s 8 horse-racing tracks. One of the moral challenges for the new millennium will be the increasing acceptance and normalization of legalized gambling.

When we went to Las Vegas for the Southern Baptist Convention some years ago, we were astonished at the glitter and glamour of this gambling city. The hotels were cheap. The food was inexpensive. The shows were reasonably priced. Before I left for the convention, I had several senior adult ladies in my church who wanted me to take $5-10 with me to gamble for them. I refused, but more and more legalized gambling is becoming acceptable among Americans and even Christians. But let me tell you what I saw and what I heard in the gambling capital of the world. I saw a 30 year-old man crying in his mother’s arms after he lost his savings. I heard about a young couple who went to Las Vegas on their honeymoon, and they lost their savings of $30,000 in one weekend. I saw lots of people playing the slot machines, but I saw no smiles even amongst the winners. There’s a good reason they are not smiling. Legalized gambling is a loser’s game. Even though we may not gamble, as a society we are all losers when we legalize and bless gambling.

Did you know that more than 600 billion dollars is wagered legally in the United States annually?1 Or that nearly 1 in 5 homeless people admit that gambling contributed to their poverty, and yet 37 percent said that they continue to gamble?2 Did you know that 75 percent of pathological gamblers admitted they had committed at least one felony to support their addiction?3 Or that more money is spent on gambling in the state of Mississippi than on all retail sales combined?4 Did you know that a decade ago, only New Jersey and Nevada permitted casinos, but now 48 states have legalized some form of gambling?5 Did you know that in the buckle of the Bible Belt (South Carolina) there are 30,000 video poker machines, which are called the crack cocaine of gambling? 6 Did you know that children as young as four years old can play these poker machines legally in South Carolina as long as they don’t accept the earnings?7 America is infected with gambling fever such that gambling is no longer considered a vice but is viewed as a harmless form of entertainment. But are the social consequences of gambling harmless and entertaining? I’ll let you be the judge.

1) One social consequence of legalized gambling is the devastation of family life. Depression and anxiety caused by gambling can destroy a marriage and devastate the family. A case in point: Catherine Avigna was playing Black Jack on Friday afternoon all the way into Saturday morning. She was paged by her son. 21-year-old Joaquin said, "Are you coming home tonight?" Catherine said, "Probably not." She played hour after hour not stop until Monday. She was more broke and depressed than ever. She was $7,000 in gambling debt. Two days later, the son peeked into his mother’s room to find two bottles of anti-depressants and a suicide note. This Assistant Attorney General for Minnesota had everything going for her, but her gambling addiction destroyed her family life, and she committed suicide.

2) The second consequence of gambling is the addictive nature of the activity. If you don’t believe gambling is addictive, go to the pawnshops surrounding the casinos, and there you will find jars of gold teeth from addicts who pawned away their teeth for gambling money. There are reports that some are willing to pawn away their wives into prostitution in order to pay for their gambling addiction.

3) The third consequence of gambling is the high level of suicides. Reports suggest 10 percent attempt suicide and that the other 90 percent contemplate suicide. John Lee, a 19 year-old college student, won $30,000 on Black Jack, but he couldn’t let go. He was hooked on gambling. He lost all of his earnings in a short period of time. Upon returning home to face financial ruin, he put a shotgun to his head and took his life.

4) The fourth consequence of gambling is the increase in crime. The introduction of casinos into a city creates and brings in 100 to 550 percent rise in gambling addicts. One study reveals that two-thirds of the gambling addicts commit crimes. Consider the gambling capitol of the world: Las Vegas. It ranks first in divorce, first in high school dropouts, first in homicide against women, at the top in gambling addictions, third in bankruptcies, third in child abuse, third in abortion, fourth in rape, fourth in out-of-wedlock births, fourth in alcohol-related deaths, fifth in crime, sixth in the number of prisoners locked up, dead-last in voter participation. One-tenth of Nevadans are alcoholics. The Yellow Pages in Las Vegas have under various names 136 listings for prostitution. George magazine calls it one of the ten most corrupt cities in America. No wonder it is called Sin City, and it’s main business is gambling.8

5) The fifth consequence of legalized gambling is the economic loss. Ironically, the gambling industry promise financial gain for the community, but the exact opposite takes place. Initially, Senator Robert Torricelli describes the gambling industry in Atlantic city as an "extraordinary success story." However, the unemployment rate in Atlantic City is three times the national average (12.7 percent). Lavish casinos light up the main thoroughfare, but two blocks away the abandoned shops look like a bombed out war zone. More than 200 restaurants have gone out business since the arrival of the casinos. Donald Trump, owner of the Taj Mahal, admitted, "People will spend a tremendous amount of money in casinos, money that they would normally spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car. Local business will suffer because they’ll lose customer dollars to casinos."9

6) The sixth consequence of gambling is the increase in child neglect and abuse. In South Carolina, two children were locked and left in cars to die because mothers went to play video poker. Not long ago, a seven year old was raped and strangled in a hotel-casino, apparently by a young man who was captured on a surveillance tape following her into a woman’s bathroom. Sherrice Iverson’s body was discovered inside a locked corner stall in the bathroom at the Primadonna Casino about 40 miles away. The little girl was slain after the security guards warned her father three times about leaving the girl unsupervised while he was gambling. The surveillance tape shows the girl playing hide and seek with two men in their early twenties. At 3:48 a.m. her father was still gambling when she went into the restroom and was followed by one of the men. The man came out of the woman’s bathroom 25 minutes later. After the girl was killed, Leroy Iverson, 57, of Los Angeles tried to cut a deal with the hotel. One source said, "He said he wouldn’t sue anybody if they would give him $100.00 to gamble with, free beer, fly his girlfriend in from out of town, and he wanted money for the arcade for the girl’s fourteen-year-old brother."10 One officer said he was amazed at the number of children he saw unsupervised at the Primadonna Casino--40 children playing at 3:00 a.m. without any adult supervision. But don’t think your children have to go to Las Vegas to learn how to gamble. With Internet gambling, your child can take your credit cards out of your wallets and purses and lose everything you own in one night. Studies reveal that two thirds of all teens have gambled, and more children are following in their parents’ footsteps.

7) The seventh consequence of legalized gambling is that of turning the government into the role of a bookie. James Dobson said, "To keep the money flowing, state governments across America must now use their authority and influence not to cultivate civic virtue but to peddle false hope."11 According to Romans 13, the function of government is to punish evil and protect the good. Yes, gambling may generate revenue, but it costs more by far in social services. A joint study of University of Georgia and University of Illinois concludes that gambling costs $63 per American. Each new addict costs the state $13-52, 000 a year. Moreover, states spend $350 million annually in advertising for the gambling industry. The damage to our society is massive when we consider the number of young people who throw away college educations because of gambling debts and senior adults who give away their retirement because they play the slot machines, not to mention the costs of law enforcement and prison expenses. We argue that it is morally acceptable for the state to bless gambling because it is for education--a good cause. That moral argument is the fallacious argument that the end justifies the means. In other words, an immoral means is justified by a moral end such as education. I don’t believe we want to teach our young people the way we are going to help education is by taking advantage of the poor and the elderly in order to support our schools. What are we teaching our young people by doing that--we can help ourselves by hurting the disadvantaged, we can get wealth without work, we can get something for nothing?


Anon. Sunday July 04, 2004
09:54 PM EDT