The Stupidity of Gambling


Preachers of the gospel are always reluctant to use the word “stupid,” but sometimes it seems to be the only word that fits the situation.  When the word is appropriate and we decide to use it, we are in good company.  Incidentally, the King James Version of the Bible never uses any form of the word “stupid,” but there is no doubt of the meaning of some passages.  I shall read some King James passages where the word “stupid” is used in some modern versions.  “A brutish man does not know, neither does a fool understand” (Psa. 92:6).  Both the New Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Version use the word “stupid” rather than the word “fool.”  Jeremiah wrote concerning God’s people: “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are sottish children, and they have no understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jer. 4:22).  The word “sottish” means resembling a sot.  It was a perfectly good word in 1611, but is no longer widely used.  Both modern versions I have mentioned translate the word “stupid.”


All of us are prone to make stupid remarks and to behave in stupid ways.  Have you ever heard preachers on Trinity Broadcasting Network and at other places say, “The coming of the Lord is nearer than it has ever been?”  Of course, the coming of the Lord is nearer than it has ever been.  If the Lord delays his coming for another 100,000 years, his coming is nearer than it has ever been.  The Lord’s coming is nearer today than it was yesterday.  Tragically, preachers are not he only ones who make stupid remarks.  Sometimes politicians’ statements make the views of everyone else--even the preachers who make stupid statements--seem like the greatest examples of logic one can imagine.  I have time in this brief lesson to provide just one such stupid political observation.


The Tennessean (Saturday, July 21, 2001) printed an article with the title, “Senator says ‘God might even thank you’ for the lottery” (p. 7-B).  I want you to know up front that I am not calling State Senator Steve Cohen of Memphis “stupid.”  I have seen him on television many times and have heard him express his views on various topics.  He appears to be reasonably well educated and articulates his views quite effectively.  But nobody--and I do mean nobody--ever made a more irresponsible--and yes--stupid statement than that.  If he had tried for a thousand years to formulate a more senseless observation, I cannot imagine what it could be.  Let us hope and pray that the people in those jurisdictions that have not yet legalized gambling will examine Senator Cohen’s views and choose to oppose gambling with all their might.


The Tennessean reported that Senator Cohen made a speech in Nashville to Tennessee broadcasters.  After the speech, a woman told him that she opposed legalizing the lottery “because God’s against it.”  Cohen responded by saying God exists in Georgia and in thirty-seven other states where gambling is legal.  He affirmed that God looks after all of us (p. 7-B).  Is God against gambling?  You know he is.  Of course, God exists in Georgia and in every other place.  Does that mean he approves of all that transpires in all those places?  Does God exist in those counties in Nevada that have legalized prostitution?  Does his existence in Nevada mean he approves of prostitution?  God exists in Palestine, but does he want the Palestinians and Israelis to keep mutilating and killing each other?


Senator Cohen makes reference to the well-known fact of Tennessee’s being the Volunteer state.  He says our state has been gracious to help the children of Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and Missouri to get scholarships for their children.  He thinks we have gone too far in volunteering.  We ought to keep some of that money at home for our own children (p. 7-B).  You already know--but I plan to keep hammering on it--that Steve Cohen’s views are irrational, immoral and destructive.  If his views prevail, our state will be much worse off morally (and probably even financially) than it already is.  The truth is” Gambling is always stupid conduct--always.


How does Senator Cohen, or anyone else, know what God approves and what he disapproves?  Does the senator have a special pipeline into the mind of God?  Is he operating on intuition?  Has he consulted someone’s crystal ball?  Is it possible he is bowing down to political pressure from his constituents?  Surely, a politician of convictions would not do that, would he?  Do Senator Cohen and his bedfellows in the fight to legalize the lottery hope to gain personally from their nefarious activities?  You do know of the corruption that proliferates in the states where gambling is legalized, do you not?  If you do not, you should read Ovid Demaris’ book, The Boardwalk Jungle (New York: Bantam Books, 1986).  Demaris lists some of the politicians who sold out to the mafia and went to jail for their greed.  United States Senator Harrison Williams went to prison for his involvement with gambling interests in New Jersey.  Demaris says that gambling is nothing more than “separating a sucker from his money.”  He calls it “legal larceny.”  Most of the people who gamble in Atlantic City are “from poor and the lower-middle class senior citizens who can ill afford to lose any money” (Author’s note, p. 11).


If “God might even thank you” for the lottery, as Senator Cohen so foolishly says, God would be thanking you for promoting greed, for hurting poor families, and for creating an atmosphere of crime and immorality.  Gambling always involved greed.  Somebody wants to get something for nothing.  He does not want to earn it; he wants to get it by buying a lottery ticket or going to a casino or betting on the horses.  Every student of the scriptures knows how strongly God opposes greed, even if Senator Cohen approves of it.  The King James Version never uses the word “greed,” but it does use the words “greedy,” “greediness,” and “greedily.”  The King James Version uses the word “covetousness.”  The Greek word pleonexia (always translated either “covetousness,” “greediness,” or “covetous practices”) literally means to overreach.  The word is always used in a bad sense.  Jesus said to a certain rich man: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness (or greed): for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses” (Lk. 12:15).  Paul classifies covetousness with murder, sexual immorality, hating God, and maliciousness (Rom. 1: 29-31).  He commanded the Ephesians: “But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints” (Eph. 4:3).  Did you know that Paul called covetousness or greed “idolatry” (Col. 3:5)?  Maybe Senator Cohen does not know what the Psalmist said about greed.  “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and blesses the covetous (or greedy), whom the Lord abhors” (Psa. 10:3).  It is doubtful that “God might even thank you” for the lottery--very doubtful.


Incidentally, the people who buy lottery tickets or gamble in the casinos are not the only greedy people.  Governors, state senators and representatives are sometimes greedy.  They encourage their constituents to gamble so the state can have more money to spend on the politicians’ pet projects.  The politicians occasionally profit financially from gambling operations.  Several years ago, some politicians in Kentucky were indicted for taking pay-offs from racing interests.  Anyone who thinks that will not happen wherever gambling is legalized is dreaming or deliberately covering up what has occurred in virtually every place in the nation where gambling has become legal.  How can the state control various criminal activities when it legalizes some?  And gambling--all gambling--is criminal from a moral viewpoint.


It is criminal for a state to promise riches to people who gamble in state-sponsored lotteries or casinos.  Government should always seek the welfare of its people.  When the state seductively advertises that great sums of money can be made through gambling, it is destroying men’s motivations for working to make a living, creating an atmosphere where people expect to get rich on the misery of others, and endorsing some of the most despicable attitudes and behaviors known to man.  In addition, the state is creating gambling addicts who have difficulty supporting their families and who often rob, steal, and kill to get more money for gambling.


Our nation is suffering from unqualified, unconcerned, and ungodly leaders.  Do you remember how Jeremiah described the leaders of his day?  Jeremiah delivered these very caustic words to the people of God.  “I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem horrible things: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that no one returns from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.  Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets; behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land” (Jer. 23:14-15).  If Jeremiah were alive today, would he use words like “evildoers” and “profaneness” of those who promote gambling?  You know he would and so would all the great prophets of the Old Testament and the outstanding preachers of the New.


Do you know who buys lottery tickets?  The rich did not get rich by spending their money stupidly.  The poor are the ones who get hurt from lotteries.  Even the supporters of gambling concede that gambling primarily hurts poor people.  A few years ago, I spoke on a lectureship at Lakeland, Florida.  On a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I stopped at a local drug store to pick up some items.  There was a long line of people waiting to buy lottery tickets.  Outside in the parking lot, there were no expensive automobiles.  The people buying the tickets were driving run-down cars and pickups.  Their dress showed conclusively that they were poor but hoping to strike it rich in the lottery.  All they succeeded in doing was getting poorer.  It grieves me to see poor people spending their hard earned money on gambling--whatever the nature of the gambling.  It also grieves me to know that politicians care so little about the people they represent that they want to get more money from them in the form of gambling.  Are the politicians so ignorant they think they are creating a new form of revenue?


If I were a rich man, I would like to send a copy of Larry Braidfoot’s book, Gambling: A Deadly Game (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1985) to every congressman and senator in every state in our union.  I am aware that many of them would not take the time to read it, but those who did read it would know for sure just how stupid gambling is and how stupid it is to legalize it.  They could not discount the information Dr. Braidfoot provides in his book.  Of course, there are politicians who have already made up their minds and do not want to be disturbed by the facts. 


Dr. Braidfoot is probably the best-qualified man in the United States to deal with every kind of gambling.  He holds a law degree from the University of Texas Law School and a doctor’s degree in Christian ethics from Baylor University.  He has testified in dozens and dozens of hearings before state legislatures that were contemplating legalizing some form of gambling.  How any honest person could read Dr. Braidfoot’s book and ever again support any kind of gambling defies one’s imagination.  Dr. Braidfoot calls legalized gambling “an American tragedy.”  He points out that $177 billion were legally wagered in 1984 and probably as much as $23 billion gambled illegally (p. 15).  I have no idea how much was gambled in the year 2000, but probably three or four times as much as in 1984.  Dr. Braidfoot confirms what I said to you a moment ago and that is, the people most in need of financial help are the ones most vulnerable to listening to the pitch of the gambling industry (p. 18).


The third chapter in Dr. Braidfoot’s book has the title, “State-Operated Lotteries” (pp. 33-64).  Dr. Braidfoot says that a person has one in two million chances of being struck by lightening.  The odds of winning in the lottery are sometimes one in 10,000,000.  The lottery is the very worst form of gambling so far as pay-offs are concerned (p. 33).  Some have been so bold as to claim that lotteries are painless ways of taxing a state’s citizens.  Gambling is one of the most regressive forms of taxation known to man.  “Regressive taxation” simply means that the state extracts more money from the poor percentage-wise than from the rich.  Dr. Braidfoot tells of a survey of the lottery outlets in New Castle County, Delaware, in 1979.  In the rich neighborhoods, there was one outlet for every 17,630 people.  In the middle-income neighborhoods, there was one outlet for every 17,774 people.  In the very poorest neighborhoods, there was one outlet for every 1,981 people (p. 39).  Dr. Braidfoot calls the lottery a “form of ethnic exploitation” (p. 46).


But legalized gambling will reduce other kinds of gambling, will it not?  Dr. Braidfoot furnishes an abundance of evidence to show that such does not occur.  Legalizing gambling probably increases illegal gambling.  The National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice conducted a study on gambling.  Their conclusion was: “Police efforts against gambling could not be reduced, even with legalization, because there is no evidence that legalized wagering decreases illegal gambling… Major system-wide gambling-related corruption scandals in the recent past have been more likely to occur in cities where organized crime was thought to be directly involved in illegal gambling.”  Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina conducted an interview with Lieutenant Colonel Justin J. Dintino, commander of the Intelligence Division of the New Jersey State Police.  Dintino was also a member of the Presidential Commission on Organized Crime.  Senator Thurmond asked Dintino: “In other words, you’re saying that when you legalize gambling it has increased other gambling, is that right?”  Dintino replied: “Yes, in other words, when you introduce gambling to an area where they never had gambling before, you now develop a whole new group of individuals who start to gamble.  Now, as a result of that, they may initially start out with legal gambling, but some of these people will turn to illegal gambling because it offers them higher payments and there are no tax payments that have to be made” (p. 50-51).


The sad truth is that hundreds of thousands of crimes are committed each year because of both legal and illegal gambling.  More than two-thirds of compulsive gamblers have committed felony crimes while pursuing their addiction to gambling.  Did you know that forty percent of “white collar crime” is committed by compulsive gamblers (p. 54)?  Gambling interests in Atlantic City, New Jersey, have destroyed homes, created poverty and done irreparable damage to the community in countless ways, as you can confirm by reading Ovid Demaris’ book The Boardwalk Jungle.  Dr. Braidfoot reports on a survey of Atlantic City High School students.  The following are some of the results of the survey:  “72% of the students gambled in the casinos; 69% started by the age of sixteen; 6% started gambling at the ages of ten through twelve; 9% gambled before the age of ten; 6% shoplifted to get money for gambling; and 3% sold drugs to get money to gamble” (p. 55).


Harry Reid once served as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Commission.  He later became a United States representative from Nevada.  His words should ring in the ears of everyone who favors legalizing any kind of gambling.  “I’d be a fool to say gambling has not been good for the state…but any state trying to follow Nevada’s lead will find that social costs far outweigh any economic benefit” (p. 60).


There are many biblical principles that unequivocally condemn all forms of gambling.  The sin of greed, mistreating the poor, and encouraging and supporting criminal activities are just a few of those principles.  But no passage in the Bible, in my judgment, speaks more effectively to this topic than what we commonly call “the Golden Rule.”  In his great Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said to his disciples: “Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do unto you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt. 7:12).  The popular expression of that principle is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  There are millions of people who profess no faith, but who honor the Golden Rule, at least, in word if not in practice.


How would you like for someone to take your money with little or no hope of getting value in return?  That is precisely what occurs when one gambles--whether by buying lottery tickets, or betting on horses, or playing the one-arm bandits.  One is five times more likely to be bitten by a shark than he is to win the lottery.  The Golden Rule does not allow me to take from others without giving value in return; nor does it allow them to take from me.


I close today with these wise words from the father of our country: “It (gaming) is the child of avarice (or greed), the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief.”  My friends, the scriptures completely agree with George Washington--not with Senator Steve Cohen.


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334


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