By Athens Clay Pullias
Gambling is a wickedness as ancient as the human family. Gambling devices can be found everywhere there is evil of any kind. Hardly any type of sinful allurement flourishes without adding gambling to its attractions. The fever created by the thrill of taking a chance at dice, horse racing, the roulette wheel, and an infinite variety of other forms of gambling seems to grow until for many it becomes a consuming fire. Religious people generally condemn gambling severely. Still it continues to the corruption and injury of vast numbers of people.
What is gambling? There is a considerable degree of confusion when an effort is made to answer that question. Legally, gambling may be defined as follows: “Gaming or playing for money; the betting on the result of a game; the playing of a game of chance or skill for stakes.” The gambler often justifies his gambling by saying that everything in life involves chance, or he may say that everything we do involves risk and danger. These things, of course, are true.
GAMBLING AND TAKING RISKS
What then is the clear line of distinction between gambling, which is a vicious and corrupting sin, and the taking of risks which are essential to productive living? Gambling differs in that it involves the creation of unneccessary risks which may endanger financial security. The creation of these risks undermines, and eventually will destroy, the Christian virtues of productive work, thrift, and the desire to earn what one claims the right to have. Gambling is sinful because it involves the desire to obtain something for nothing, which itself is a violation of Christian ethics.
The farmer does not gamble in any wicked sense when he invests in land, plants his crops, and hopes for a bountiful harvest. He does take large and carefully calculated risks. He takes risks for the purpose of producing goods that are essential to human life. The bona fide investor in stocks or bonds is not a gambler, since these represent partial ownership of productive facilities, such as transportation facilities, factories, mines, and industrial plants. These investments are essential to the existence of our commercial and industrial life. The risks taken by legitimate investors are the backbone of our system of free enterprise. Those who buy and sell basic commodities, such as corn, wheat, cotton, and the like are not sinners. Without the buyers and sellers there would be no market for produce and no efficient system of distributing goods. The result would be economic chaos.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?
Insurance is not gambling. The purpose of insurance is to spread the risk of death or illness or injury. The insurance does not create this risk; it is universally existent and constitutes a problem for every family and individual. Insurance is the most effective possible means of distributing and lessening these inevitable risks of illness, injury, or death.
The giving of prizes for unusual accomplishment, or purely as a means of advertising, does not constitute gambling. The reward is given for achievement. No risk is created, and no risk is taken. A firm giving away goods for advertising receives a just return in advertising value. This differs basically, for example, from a bingo game, where you pay so much to play in the hope of winning a great deal more, yet nothing is produced, and a risk that did not exist has been created. In one case industry and commerce are promoted. In the other, the seeds of dangerous and sinful gambling are sown.
ASK THESE QUESTIONS
The line between the wickedness of gambling and the hazards of investment is unmistakably clear. You can always tell the difference by asking a few simple questions: Is this an investment with reasonable prospects for productive results in goods or services? Will this action create a risk that did not exist in the hope of obtaining something for nothing and without producing anything good?
AVOID GAMBLING IN SMALL THINGS
The Christian should carefully avoid gambling in small things, such as matching money, or playing games for insignificant amounts of money. These do not actually create hazardous risks, but they are identical in character with those actions which do. They represent a dangerous example for the young and often have been a pitfall to older people as well. The practice of evil, however slight, is still evil. The acid test in this case would be whether this is an investment for productive purposes or whether it is the creation of an unnecessary risk for frivolous, or outright vicious purposes. Small gambling grows into large and reckless gambling. The financial ruin of many people is centered in this form of evil.
GAMBLING FOR A WORTHY PURPOSE
Some gambling is defended on the grounds that the proceeds are to be used for a worthy purpose. This is a subversive fallacy. No matter how worthy the purpose in using the proceeds of a lottery, or a pool, or any similar gambling device, these are still sinful and wrong. Sometimes the law is guilty of “winking” at church bazaars, lotteries, bingo games, and such like which are in direct violation of the law. The fact that this is done does not change the wrong of these practices. Gambling is a sin that should be avoided scrupulously by all of God’s people.