Greed and Gambling– Two Sides of One Coin

Greed and Gambling– Two Sides of One Coin February 25, 2024

A couple of Sundays ago, 60 minutes did an expose on the spreading scourge of gambling, and in particular, gambling on sports.   Let me be clear that networks like ESPN, the NFL channel, and others are increasingly promoting sports gambling through sites like Fan Duel or Draft Kings, and many others.  And the number one segment of the population that are responding to the clarion call to gamble are young men from the ages of 17 to 34.  Overwhelmingly so, as the 60 Minutes segment above shows.  Gambling like alcohol, like the drug fentanyl can be highly addictive. And its ‘been the ruin of many a poor boy’ to quote a phrase from the Animals famous phrase about another sin, namely prostitution (‘The House of the Rising Sun’).  Or as Paul Simon once said in the song the Boxer

“I am just a poor boyThough my story’s seldom toldI have squandered my resistanceFor a pocketful of mumblesSuch are promisesAll lies and jestStill a man hears what he wants to hearAnd disregards the rest.

Fallen, sinful human beings have an infinite capacity for self-justification when it comes to things they really want to do, even if it’s immoral, or appears to be wrong.

But let’s suppose you’re asking what is so wrong with gambling?   Many things, but let’s focus on one practical thing first— the attempt to get a lot of money on the basis of very much less input of money.  This completely severs the important link between work and appropriate compensation for work.  In what world would it be commensurate to put a dollar coin in a slot machine and get 50,000 dollar return?  This is not something that is earned or deserved for playing a slot machine.  It certainly can’t be called a reward, because a reward, especially Biblically speaking has to do with a gracious outcome for good deeds.  So one of the roots of gambling is not merely self-centered behavior of wanting more, more, more, but outright greed, one of the seven deadly sins according to the medieval church fathers.

As Christianity’s influence on American culture has become less and less in recent decades it is not surprising that the acceptance of all different kinds of betting, including sports betting has grown and grown and grown. Notice that the Super Bowl this year was held in ‘Lost Wages’ as I prefer to call Sin City. Betting is never or almost never self-sacrificial behavior. And the sad fact is, it often ruins the lives of the very people who can least afford it– the poor, the blue collar worker, and now students using their college student loan money to gamble.

In my youth, cultural acceptance of gambling, specifically gambling on sports was so at such a low level that Pete Rose was banned from the Hall of Fame for gambling, betting on his own sport.   Also in my home state of North Carolina there was a huge effort by my fellow Methodist and Baptists to totally prevent their being a state approved lottery, and other forms of betting.  Those days are gone.   States tout the money for public education raised by lotteries, on the rationale that since people will gamble anyway, why shouldn’t the state have a sin tax and take a share of it and do something good with it?  They don’t report how many people each year get in serious financial trouble from playing the state lottery.  And there is an old saying that is appropriate ‘the ends (funds for education) do not justify or cleanse the sinful means by which the money is obtained’.

Throughout the ages there have been appropriate warnings about greed— the story of Croesus or Midas for example, or more recently  the novel Silas Marner from 19th century America.   The solution to this huge cultural problem in America, is not a Gambling addiction hotline provided by the very groups who are running betting apps etc.  The solution is a massive repentance of self-centered behavior, and in particular of greed.  In God’s world it is not true that ‘the person who dies with the most toys wins’.  If you want to see how God evaluates all this read Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.  Do not read Ayn Rand’s ode to unfettered capitalism and greed run riot in the Fountain Head.  Perhaps most pitiful of all are the health and wealth preachers who tell you ‘God want you materially rich’.   But no matter how much money or material possessions you have, they cannot fill the God-shaped vacuum in your soul.    Enough Said.

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