Risky Business

The lure of quick, easy money is seducing millions. But is it worth the gamble?
From the June 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

Las Vegas, Nevada

Driving the Las Vegas strip at night, you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the flood of flashing lights emanating from casino after casino.

Rolling slowly in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you are struck by the images of watery Venice, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, ancient Rome, Egypt’s pyramids, swashbuckling pirates and a tropical oasis. The sidewalks overflow with thousands of starry-eyed pedestrians who casino-hop in hopes of striking the jackpot—trading in their dreary suburban lives for the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Last year over 30 million people visited this gambling mecca, the fifth most popular tourist destination in the world; 100,000 of them were married here. Vegas manages over 850 daily airline flights transporting over 2.5 million passengers per month through its airport, making it the eighth-busiest airport in the world. Nine of the ten largest hotels in the world are located here, and within the city limits alone it maintains a 90 percent occupancy year round in its 120,000 hotel rooms.

This is Las Vegas—sin city—a jewel of prosperity and opulence—America’s gambling capital and the home of “risky business.”

Big Spenders

The amount of money spent worldwide each year on all forms of legal and illegal gambling is impossible to calculate. However, legalized gambling figures reported by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (ngisc) paint an astounding picture of just how rapidly the industry grew in the U.S. in the last 50 years.

Before 1990, legalized casinos existed only in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now casinos are legal in 28 states. State lotteries began in the U.S. in New Hampshire in 1964. Today, 37 states plus the District of Colombia conduct state lotteries. In 1991, riverboat casinos began operation in Iowa. By 1998 there were 40 in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and almost 50 dockside and riverboat casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi. That year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians that states can’t regulate commercial gambling on Indian reservations. In 1988 under this law, 70 Indian casinos and bingo halls were operating in 16 states. Just ten years later, 298 facilities were operating in 31 states.

Today, 48 of America’s 50 states conduct one form or another of legalized gambling within their borders. These range from lotteries, casinos, riverboats, Indian casinos and video lottery slot machines, to horse racing and dog racing.

Over 20 million Americans are problem or pathological gamblers—double 1986 estimates. In fact, in 1998, Americans spent more on gambling (about $50 billion) than on recorded music, theme parks, video games, spectator sports and movie tickets combined.

Simply Irresistible

Have you at one time or another dreamed of striking it rich? All of your troubles and problems would melt away if only you had more money! But would they? Since gambling has such an impact upon the world and its citizens today, shouldn’t the Bible have something to say about the subject?

With country after country struggling under the oppression of economic decay, stability of income has become increasingly uncertain. Widespread unemployment has led many to seek a “once and for all” solution to cure their monetary woes. Instant wealth!

The get-rich impulse stems from warped thinking as a result of desperate and misguided human nature. As Arthur Shafer, former philosophy professor at the University of Manitoba, commented, “The whole impulse to improve one’s life through gambling is dubious. It is a kind of magical thinking” (Good News, Sept. 1986). This thinking drives millions to seek enormous profits through minimal work.

Joseph Dunn, ex-director of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling, stated, “People who are worried about the factory closing take a chance on making it big. Once they win anything, they’re hooked” (ibid.).

Advertising, marketing and mainstream media work hard to report winner after winner to the public, giving the impression that the odds of winning are actually pretty good. However, the truth is that the chances of losing are astronomical! Report after report reiterates that the majority of “common people,” especially the poor and less educated, are the real losers—those who can least afford to spend the money on games of chance.

The American Journal of Economics and Sociology reports that those earning less than $10,000 per year spend over twice as much money on gambling than people making three or four times that. Meanwhile the unemployed and retired gamble 61 to 83 percent more than the employed.

What’s Your Motivation?

Even if you approve of gambling, most of you reading this article are not addicts. However, even minimal amounts of wagering in any form carry with them the big question of motive. Gambling is based on risk. Chance is the predominant determining factor. Its seductiveness lies in its promise of effortless fast profit. It is driven, in every case, by greed.

Educator Herbert W. Armstrong was a man who knew both grinding poverty and the fruits of hard work in lasting success. He recognized the root cause of man’s greed. “Coveting money and that which money will buy is merely the manner of manipulating Satan’s way of life—‘get’ instead of ‘give’—take and compete instead of cooperateself-concern and self-gain with desire to win, instead of love toward God and love toward neighbor” (ibid.).

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is the root [‘a root’ is the correct translation] of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (i Tim. 6:10). The attitude behind gambling is simply the attitude of get—acquiring material gain at the expense of someone else. It springs from raw human nature, not the mind of the all-loving, universe-creating God.

Was Paul saying that being wealthy is sin? No! Anciently Abraham, Job and others were very wealthy. Even the Apostle John wished health and prosperity upon God’s people (iii John 2). Wealth of and by itself is not evil; it’s the attitude behind the wealth that God is concerned about. The lustful craving for wealth ensnares one in the unrelenting grip of greed.

God’s character does not allow lust or greed. As Mr. Armstrong so often wrote, His character is based on His law, the law of love, of outflowing concern one toward the other—the way of give. This is the attitude we should have when it comes to finance, money and wealth.

Proper business practices involve a profit return, but not at the expense of someone else’s loss. Both sides should gain by the transaction—it should be mutually beneficial. In the same manner, the principle of insurance coverage promotes the sharing of expenses to cover accidental losses—the give principle.

This is the principle behind God’s attitude toward gambling. Simply put, gambling breaks God’s law. The very motive of get for the self destroys the building of God’s very own nature, His way of give, His character in us. As Christ Himself said in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The way of get, greed and gambling is risky business. However, the way of give is risk-free. Jesus Christ taught that the way of give produces a return, a blessing: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). If you seek to live by the principles of God’s way of life, all of your physical necessities will be provided for (Matt. 6:33). You have to make sure you have your spiritual and physical priorities set straight.

In the arena of entertainment there are many areas to consider where God’s principle regarding gambling applies. Put simply, will the money spent produce a predetermined return, or is there only a chance of some return? Contests or skill-testing games that test your talents deliver a predetermined return. However, paying a gaming fee for the chance of winning a monetary or physical prize is gambling.

Reconsider your approach to raffles or drawings used to promote subscriptions sales. God is concerned with your attitude. Honestly evaluate your motivation in all of these areas. Is it one of get for yourself and take from others, or giving, sharing and mutually benefitting everyone involved?

This principle may not apply to sweepstakes, draws or other business and media-sponsored events. If nothing is wagered, nothing is lost. Dropping your name in a box for a department store draw involves no risk of money or stakes upon the outcome. The customers have collectively paid for whatever prizes will be awarded. This is often used as a bonus to draw more customers into the department store. This is not gambling.

The “Worthy Cause”

One particularly cunning way that gambling is promoted is through the diversion of a portion of the proceeds toward “worthy causes.” Raffles and state lotteries are the most common forms of this promotional scheme. Governments often promote lotteries stating that a percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to the “worthy cause.” However, they fail to mention that this money will not be added to existing budgets, but will merely reduce the amount that the government must allocate to that particular area. The amount of money given to, let’s say, protect the environment remains the same as before the lottery was introduced.

In addition, the motive behind giving must be seriously considered. Raising money for worthy causes has been popular for many years. The public doesn’t buy the lottery ticket to help the worthy cause, but for the chance to win big and net themselves a fistful of money. Motivation is the key. As God told the Prophet Samuel, “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (i Sam. 16:7). Supporting gambling for a supposed selfless motive is usually just an excuse for letting greed run rampant.

Giving to charitable causes or organizations is absolutely fine, so long as that is purely what it is for: a donation with no strings attached—a charitable contribution. Today in the U.S., we see campaign finance reform as a hot topic. Many have provided large contributions to electoral candidates with the expectation of favorable treatment in return. This is simply self-serving greed, not a simple charitable contribution.

Productive Effort

We’ve often heard the adage, “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” God’s law agrees with this principle of a just reward for work rendered (i Tim. 5:18). Gambling stifles the character trait of productive effort—hard, honest work.

“A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent” (Prov. 28:20). An attitude of greed will eventually drive you toward poverty (v. 22). Time after time the stories have been told of people who were financially wiped out after gambling their life’s savings away.

In Luke 19:12-27 and Matthew 25:14-30, we are shown via Christ’s parables of pounds and talents that God’s way involves developing and increasing that which is entrusted to us. Both spiritually and physically, the lesson is that to gain a reward requires personal effort.

Gambling teaches those who enter its snare to rely on blind luck and chance in acquiring wealth. There is no investment, just enormous odds of losing. It is far more profitable for us to direct our time, effort and attention to acquiring honest wealth—and, even more, the true riches of God’s soon-coming Kingdom (Matt. 6:19-21).

My father-in-law referred to Las Vegas as the city of “Lost Wages”—and he was right. For all of the instant millionaires in the world, there are countless more millions of losers, those who have had their livelihood swept out from under them. Even more problematic is that the love of money, lust and greed chokes off character growth and the way to a happier life.

Invest in God’s Work

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8). God challenges us here, stating that if we rob Him of tithes and offerings He will curse us with the curse—utter destruction.

Ask yourself, how much more can I give to God? To the Creator of heaven and Earth and all that is in them? Every good thing you have comes from Him (James 1:17). Do you give back to God—making Him your best investment?

Trumpet Editor in Chief Gerald Flurry has repeatedly shown that there is an end-time church that knew God and used to give Him His tithes and offerings, but now holds them back. In the process they are knowingly depriving the world of the invaluable treasure of the knowledge of God. The job of sharing this precious knowledge with all who wish to receive it has been left to the relative few, a small remnant in this end time who will sacrifice and serve God as He commands.

God is making it personal here—for you and for me: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (v. 10). You see, giving God His tithes and offerings in support of His work is a far more wise investment than frittering it away by gambling on a hope, chance or hunch of winning. (For more understanding of God’s law of tithing, request our reprint article on this subject.)

Don’t let the bright lights of the love of money entice you into the grip of greed. God is looking for those special few in this world who will flee the risky business of gambling and invest in Him and His work, which gives vastly great and rewarding returns. For to be truly successful, you must put God first in your life. Make His work your treasure; support His one voice sharing this precious knowledge with the world, and then you will reap unspeakable blessings.