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Why Are Christians So Indifferent to Gambling?

Gambling has infiltrated our culture, but Christians are silent. There could be many reasons why that is so.

A generation ago, when gambling in this province consisted of little more than betting at racetracks and secretive selling of Irish Sweepstakes tickets, Christian churches campaigned against gambling.

Christians are … committed to help people not to make wrong choices.

Today, gambling is big business in British Columbia, with more than $2 billion spent on it annually. Gambling establishments have mushroomed across the province, and B.C. Lotto and other agencies have made gambling accessible to everyone who owns a computer.

Why, as The Langley Times noted, did that city's newly opened Cascades Casino get its licensing "almost without one word of protest at an empty public hearing"? Why are Christian voices mostly silent about our gambling culture? Many possible rationalizations come to mind.

Personal freedom

Gambling is an exercise of personal freedom. Christians have always supported free choice. God gives us the freedom to choose wrongly and then, of course, to live with the consequences. We must respect free choice just as God odes.

The problem with this rationale is that it ignores the importance of making right choices even when we have the option of making wrong ones. Wrong remains wrong, even though God and human authorities allow us to choose it. Christians are, therefore, committed to help people not to make wrong choices.

On May 14, 1997 The Vancouver Sun reported a public opinion poll in which "86 percent think gaming a personal choice." In a sense, all evil involves personal choice; but that does not make it less evil or less a concern for people of God.

Given that gambling is legal, some thing, it surely cannot be bad; if it were bad, then governments would not have legalized it. It's hard to believe that, until the late 1980s, gambling establishments were illegal across Canada. Today gambling is legal almost everywhere. But the decline in public morality, the rapid distancing of public policy from the Judeo-Christian ethic, does not affect the validity of that ethic. What is legal can still be immoral. In this case it is.

Surely, the fact that governments, beginning with Manitoba in 1989, are sponsoring and promoting gambling must mean that it is, on balance, an appropriate activity. Unfortunately such reasoning is not reliable. Throughout history, governments have often undertaken activities, ranging from slavery to military assault, which were morally wrong. The sponsorship for gambling—despite attempts to dress it up with bright lights, appealing sounds and catchy slogans—falls into that category.

Halifax pastor, David Kromminga, has aptly observed that "With every move towards gabling, the government becomes corrupting." Governments which should function as key restraints on evil have become chief propoters of social harm.

Generating revenue

Governments constantly look for ways to raise money without raising taxes. In British Columbia, governments typically get 35 to 40 percent of gambling revenue. Some people, including Christians, think that it is better to establish gambling venues than to raise taxes.

It's a sad reality that our governments have become addicted to the ill-gotten gains of gambling. But that does not change the fact that this income constitutes a regressive tax. Doug Koop, editor of ChristianWeek, has correctly state that "by deepening their dependence on gambling, governments continue to compromise their moral authority and set their citizens on a path that leads to ruin and destruction."

Some argue that, because of human nature, some people will insist on gambling—if not here, then elsewhere. Therefore, if people are going to throw away their money, at least let's get them to throw it away at home.

Governments often invoke this argument; so do some Christians. It carries some weight, but not much. It is better to education people not to gamble, and to convince governments not to provide the locales, than for people to throw their money away—either at home or elsewhere.

… the end does not justify the means.

It's true that, in B.C., more than 3,500 charities get gambling grants. A few years ago, I heard a B.C. Lotteries official speak of the "tremendous potential … to grow a market … for charitable gaming." In B.C., charities get about 20 percent of the gross revenue at casinos, governments 40 percent, and the operators another 40 percent. In other forms of gambling charities may get more.

Is this money given to silence likely critics? Is it given to help truly needy agencies? Whatever the motivation, from a true Christian perspective, the end does not justify the means.


Governments would have you believe that gambling is mostly a form of entertainment. That's why it has been renamed "gaming." Gambling is treated like a game—a harmless way to "spend your entertainment dollars." But gambling is not merely entertainment. Spending $10 may be entertaining; but losing a large amount is not. Risks are misrepresented. The gambling authorities don't tell you that if you play long enough, all your money will be gone, even if you win a jackpot!

Gambling, supporters say, is just another business, and therefore has every right to operate in the community. Christians should not oppose legitimate businesses. But gambling is not just another business. It adds nothing to a community's or a province's "gross domestic product." It involves the exploitation of a largely uninformed public. Keeping in mind the Biblical exhortations to uphold justice, Christians argue that public interest and public protection must come ahead of gambling industry interests.

For various reasons, some Christians support gambling. During the 1970s Bob Banman, the Manitoba Minister Responsible for Lotteries, argued that he used his influence to limit the expansion of lotteries. In 1994 Garth Manness, President of the Ontario Lotteries Corporation, explained that he felt that he knows "when the Lord has challenged me enough to move out of something and that hasn't happened to me in this business."

Presumably we all know our motives. Maybe God calls Christians to work to limit gambling, but that does not mean that the Christian Church should set aside its moral principles.

Some will say gambling is not a big problem, that essentially, gambling is a benign pastime; at worst, it is simply an irresponsible use of one's money. The evidence is much more disconcerting. An Angus Reid poll revealed that, "One out of every ten B.C. adults is either struggling with gambling addiction (8.4 percent) or has become a lifetime pathological gambler (2.1 percent)." Another study revealed that B.C. has about 150,000 pathological gamblers. Harvard Professor Howard Shaffer reported that one in six teens experiences gambling-related problems. Family Survivors of Suicide report that today, in Canada, more youth are involved in gambling activities than any other addictive behaviour.

The cost is high. Each gambling addict costs B.C. taxpayers more than $20,000 per year. Just as the Good Samaritan could not simply pass by, Christians today cannot stand idly by.

The key need is for strong local action.

Amidst the dearth of strong Christian stances, some groups have done well. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has spelled out a clear and solidly Christian stance in its public submission to government, Gambling: A Bad Bet. The Christian Reformed Churches have produced a fine brief which states that "We oppose the passage of this [gambling] bill because we consider the proposed legislation it contains to be morally unconscionable, ethically reprehensible, philosophically indefensible and economically irresponsible."

The key need is for strong local action. In 1997 Abbotsford, then a city of 110,000, conducted a referendum on licensing a casino. Only 22 percent of the people in this Bible Belt city bothered to vote; they did, however, vote 2:1 against it. A local paper reported that of the three large churches only Northview Community, a Mennonite Brethren church, had "encouraged" members to vote no. The other two, Sevenoaks Alliance and Central Heights, another Mennonite Brethren congregation, "had not encouraged their members to vote a certain way."

Does it tell us something when secular media ask the Christian churches where they stand on gambling?

Dr. John Redekop is on the faculty of Trinity Western University and is a member of Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford, B.C.

Originally published in B.C. Christian News, June 2005.




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