As many of you know last summer my
family took a four day cruise to the Bahamas for our vacation.
On the ship was a casino, which would open once we were away
from port and at sea, probably once we entered international
waters, which is twelve miles off shore.
While we were at sea I would sometimes
walk through the casino just to watch people, and to see what
was so thrilling or compelling about gambling. Well after a
while of walking around and observing, folks it became clear
to me who was losing and who was winning. And in general I saw
many more somber faces than I did happy ones.
On our last day at sea I was in line
for the lunch buffet and the couple behind me was having a
conversation about the casino, and more specifically in their
case, their lack of luck at the casino. I over heard how they
had lost all the cash they brought on the trip and how in just
a couple of days they max'ed out their credit cards playing
the slot machines and Black Jack. While standing in the line
they were trying to figure out where they could get some more
cash so they could try to win some of their money back during
the last couple hours the casino would be open before the ship
returned to Florida.
After some time one of them remembered
that the cabin attendants received a tip which is
automatically added to the cabin bill. You see before you pay
your final bill you have the ability to add to the tip or take
away from the tip based on the performance of the cabin
attendant. So this couple decided to take away the tip from
the cabin attendant, not because he or she did a bad job, but
because it was the only means of cash they had to continue
So after lunch I went to the casino to
see if they actually followed through with their idea, and
sure enough they did, and they managed to lose it all to the
Gambling in its many forms has become
a big problem in our society with its allure and prospect of
fast action and easy money. For the past year the debate over
allowing slots in Maryland and in our neighboring Adams
County, Pennsylvania, where some of you live, has been
contentious and is beginning to heat up once again.
As many of you know the Maryland state
government is currently considering legalizing slot machines
in Maryland, and Adams County has been looking at Gettysburg
as the perfect place for legalized gambling. Some of the
rationale the legislators are using for legalizing slots in
Maryland include: " Keeping the gambling revenue Marylander's
spend in neighboring states within this state " Helping fund
our children's education " Providing jobs, for those who may
otherwise be unemployed " Keeping the government from having
to raise taxes to cover revenue short-falls
Those who oppose legalizing slots
offer some of the following reasons: " Gambling is the fastest
growing form of addiction among U.S. teens, especially on
college campuses. " It takes many people to lose, for one to
win, and the odds of winning are very slim " Bankruptcies,
divorces, and suicides increase wherever casinos and slot
machine gambling are located " Slot machines unfairly target
the poor and elderly by offering them a better future. So in
some cases these folks use their food and prescription money
to gamble with.
Over the past couple of weeks I've
spoken with several people who work in the gambling industry
in West Virginia, I've spoken with pastors of churches in the
Charles Town, West Virginia area specifically, and I've spoken
with individuals who oppose gambling in all its forms.
And not being a gambler myself I even
had a friend of mine show me how to play the popular poker
game Texas Hold'em so I could experience what the so-called
"thrill of the game was."
I found in all my conversations, and
in the playing of Texas Hold'em, that the reason gambling is
appealing is that it offers an escape from ones present
reality and provides hope for a brighter tomorrow. Now it's
true that in Charles Town if it weren't for the slots and race
track more folks would be living below the poverty line, not
because they're winning, but because these places offer them
But it's also true that many of the
folks gambling are those who can least afford to gamble, and a
very high majority lose, leaving themselves in a worse state
than before they started to gamble. So in reality there is no
net gain in the quality of living in areas that support
gambling. Poverty and need are just shifting from one family
Now I have to admit I found playing
Texas Hold'em a fun game to play, and during the evening I
played I did win some, and I lost some. It didn't really
matter since we weren't playing for money.
But it also became very apparent to me
how someone could quickly get hooked on playing the game for
hours without even knowing it. I ended up playing for three
hours without realizing how fast the time went by, because I
was so into the game. As many of you know I'm pretty
competitive so I was pretty focused on winning. With the
ability to gamble over the internet now, access to Texas
Hold'em and other games that promise excitement and fortune
are just a mouse click away.
In my research I came to the
conclusion that most forms of gambling can lead to two very
serious problems if folks aren't careful: addiction, and false
Addiction to gambling can come upon
someone very quickly, and no one is immune to this disease. At
first we may start by playing a game for fun, then we begin to
enjoy it, we may win a little and then the temptation to keep
playing to win the big one becomes so great we get hooked.
I know someone who won a little, then
won big playing the slots, she became addicted, and eventually
lost everything she had, totally in the $10,000 range.
An article entitled "Gaming's rise
takes human toll" dated December 22, 2002 in The
Courier-Journal of Indiana, estimates that more than 204,000
people in Kentucky and Indiana alone have gambling addiction
problems, problems that lead to financial troubles, crime, and
many calls to the gambling addiction help lines.
It's also clear some people also seek
out gambling because they're looking for hope, and the allure
of gambling with its promised fast action and potential reward
becomes their means of hope.
Perhaps their lives aren't all they
would like them to be, they're struggling and are working very
hard only to see things get worse rather than better, or
perhaps the sin of greed and self-image take control of their
lives. In either case these folks are looking for a better
future, they're seeking hope.
So what are we to do, what are we as
Christian's suppose to do with respect to gambling?
The United Methodist Church takes a
strong stance against gambling as written in our Social
Principles. Our Social Principles state in part: "Gambling is
a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral,
social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good
government." So what about the Bible, what does it say? Well
archaeological and historical evidence shows that dice playing
and other forms of gambling were practiced in biblical times;
however, if we turn to the Bible we quickly learn that the
Bible doesn't address directly the issue of gambling. For
example, the only mention of gambling in the New Testament is
when the Roman soldiers cast lots to see who would get Jesus'
clothing after he was crucified. (Matt. 27:35, Mark 15:24,
Luke 23:34, John 19:24)
However, casting lots was not
primarily a gambling method, but a way of making a decision,
similar to drawing straws. (Lev. 16:8, Num. 34:13, Jonah 1:7,
Acts 1:23-26) It was often assumed that God would make His
will known in the outcome. And the "lots" mentioned in the
Bible may have been some form of dice, but that's not certain.
So the Bible doesn't give any direct
guidance on whether gambling is right or wrong. However,
according to the Bible some of the motivations and actions
that may lead to gambling are sins. For example: " Greed and
obsession with money - Mark 7:20-23, 1 Timothy 6:10 "
Exploitation of people - Leviticus 25:16-17, 1 Thess. 4:5-6 "
Not providing for one's family - 1 Timothy 5:8 " Bad habits
and compulsions - John 8:34, Romans 6:16-18 " A life of
dissipation - 1 Peter 4:1-4
Paul's letter to Titus, from which we
heard read from this morning, reminds us that it's the purpose
of all Christians to exhibit right living in a world known for
its greed, self-centeredness, and evil.
Paul is counseling us to live upright
and godly lives, and not lives of sin, while we wait for the
blessed hope; the second coming of Christ. You see for
Christians our hope is an eternal hope as promised by God. Our
hope is in the risen Christ who triumphed over death for us so
that we too might have eternal life.
Now isn't hope based on what God in
Christ can do, has done, and promises to do, a far greater,
far more certain hope than hope based on the luck of the draw,
the throw of the dice, or the click of the mouse?
The truth is when people place their
hope in a one-arm-bandit, a computer mouse, a lottery ticket,
roulette wheel, dice, or a deck of cards, they are betting on
false hope. The chances of winning are slim. In fact the odds
are in favor of losing, and losing big.
The Lottery Action Guide reports that
a person has a much better chance of getting murdered on the
way to a convenience store to buy a lottery ticket than he or
she has of winning the multi-million dollar prize. Listen to
the following odds: o Seeing a no-hitter pitched in baseball:
1 in 1,347. o Having a royal flush in a poker game: 1 in
649,739. o Having quadruplets: 1 in 705,000. o Being struck by
lightning: 1 in 1,900,000. o Winning the California Lottery: 1
And for those who do win, many learn
that what they were hoping to achieve by winning really didn't
satisfy their needs at all.
You might remember a few years ago a
man in West Virginia won millions of dollars playing the
lottery. A year or so after he won he commented to the media,
when they asked how he was doing, that his financial situation
improved as a result of winning the lottery, but his life did
The other day I was in the Food Lion
in Mt. Airy picking up a couple of items. While I was in the
checkout line I noticed the person in front of me using Food
Stamps, and I thought to myself what a great program to help
After I checked out I went to the 7-11
to get a cup of coffee. And the same women was again in front
of me in the checkout line, however this time she was using
cash to buy five lottery tickets. After buying them she
quickly rubbed off the squares to see if she'd won. And I
stood around long enough to find out if she did win, but as
"luck" would have it she lost. I asked her if she ever won and
she said she wins a couple of bucks every now and then, and
she still had hopes of winning the big one, one day.
Man the amount of money lost every
year to gambling is absolutely mind-boggling. The River City
Group estimates that over $12.6 billion a year are gambled
over the internet alone. And in 2001 $756 billion was wagered
at Casinos in the United States.
What a poor use of God's resources,
the resources God has entrusted to us. I wonder what the world
would be like if every dollar gambled were used to share the
Gospel and to provide others with the basic needs of housing
The social costs of gambling are
tremendous and will continue to grow over time as more
programs are needed to help those who become addicted
gamblers, and as more prisons are needed to house those who
turn to crime to pay off their gambling debt, or to feed their
To those who propose using revenue
from gambling to fund our children's education because it's so
important, I suggest if education is so important why isn't it
the number one item funded in the annual budget, rather than
the last? And why does education require another revenue
stream while in some cases politician's pet projects get
funded without a problem.
Well, I believe it's because the
politicians know that people are concerned about their
children's education, so they use funding education as a way
to motivate people to support gambling.
So what are we to do, clearly gambling
is here to stay and it will continue to lead people to
practice sinful behavior and pursue false hope.
As the church we must serve as the
moral conscious of our government and communities. To this end
we ought to "promote standards and personal lifestyles that
would make unnecessary and undesirable the need to resort to
commercial gambling - including public lotteries as a
recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public
funds for supporting charities or government. And where people
have become addicted we out to encourage them to seek the
proper help so that their energies may be redirected into
positive and constructive tasks."
Instead of gambling why not save the
money we are willing to gamble away and at a minimum tithe the
same to the church and invest in the work of the Lord. The
positive impact on the world and on an individual's life will
be much greater than throwing the money away in a card game,
or forcing coins down the throat of a machine.
As the church we must be firm in our
convictions that sinful behavior is wrong and that our hope
lies in the resurrected Christ. And that the hope we have as
followers of Christ is as bright as the promises of God.
The Bible offers us confidence for the
future, not based on our own ingenuity or determination, but
on the love and mercy of God. God, the all powerful Creator
and Sustainer of the universe, who cares about our every need
and our every problem, and whom can build a secure future for
us, offers us hope sustained by his grace and love. The
prophet Jeremiah knew the secret of hope: "Blessed are those
who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord." (Jeremiah
Now the person who has never placed
their trust in Jesus Christ may see life as hopeless. And you
know what in the end they're right, because without Christ
there is no hope, because there is no future.
But the great thing is Jesus offers
all who believe hope that can never be purchased or won
- A love that's not based on our
feelings or merit, but on the never-ending grace of God "
The freedom to know and enjoy God because Jesus Christ has
taken the punishment for our sins
- A friendship that will never
disappoint us because Jesus promised,
- I will never leave you or forsake
you" (Hebrews 13:5)
- A reason for living because
following Christ gives true meaning and purpose to life
- An unshakable future firmly based
on Christ's promise, "I will come again" (John 14:3)
- And an eternal home where the
misery and sin of the world, manifested as selfishness,
greed, hatred, and death, will be gone
So as we live our lives in the here
and now we have a choice:
- we can place our faith in the
gambling venues of this world, and place our hope on chance
and the luck of the draw,
- or we can build our hope on things
eternal through faith in Jesus Christ.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade