The Insidious Nature Of Gambling, 2021

Sep 18th, 2021 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Once again, the insidious nature of gambling is being exposed in the state of Nebraska, the state in which I live.  Nebraska sports’ betting is now legal after Gov. Pete Ricketts, earlier this year, signed the state’s first-ever commercial casino gaming bill into law.  Nebraska’s gaming bill only permits retail sportsbooks at pari-mutuel race tracks, which can also offer “Las Vegas-style” casino gaming under the legislation. The bill prohibits bets on college games featuring in-state programs played in the state. That means bettors will not be able to wager on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team games when they play at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln or the Creighton Blue Jays when they play in Omaha.  State gaming facilities will likely partner with third-party operators for their “brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.” All sportsbooks are subject to further regulatory review under a new gaming commission created under the bill.  Legal betting could begin in the second half of 2021 or early 2022, but there is no firm timeline at this point. Still, the prospect of any legal Nebraska sportsbooks seemed unlikely even a year ago.

Lawmakers had fought against gaming expansions for decades, including prior voter-initiated ballot measures to amend the state constitution. A 2020 effort garnered enough signatures to land on the ballot and Nebraska voters last year overwhelmingly backed the referendum permitting casino gambling at state horse tracks.  Elected officials then had to pass the follow-up regulatory bill. Though the referendum did not explicitly allow or deny sportsbooks, lawmakers decided to include retail sports betting in the legislation and “excluding statewide mobile sportsbooks, real money poker sites or online casino games.”  Many lawmakers said they personally opposed gambling during the legislation’s debate but felt compelled to follow voters’ will after their strong support for the ballot measure.

The college betting ban was one of the bill’s most controversial decisions. After initially rejecting the in-state wagering restrictions the bills’ sponsors agreed to support the amendment to assure passage of the larger legislative package.  The state’s ban on online sports betting, which makes up 80 percent or more of all bets placed in most states, together with its small population means it will be one of the lesser U.S. markets by handle. “The college betting restrictions could further hurt revenue potential in a state where the Cornhuskers are its most popular team.  These prohibitions are surely appreciated by sportsbooks in neighboring Iowa.  Nebraska splits the Omaha metro area, far and away its largest population center, with Iowa, which legalized commercial casino gambling nearly 30 years ago. Iowa was also among the first states to approve online sportsbooks and continues to draw Nebraskans for both digital sports bets and its brick-and-mortar casinos just across the Nebraska border.”

Over the last thirty years, the growth of the gambling industry has been staggering.  Increasingly, more and more states are legalizing all forms of gambling.  Casinos are prevalent on several Indian reservations and the respective states are now utterly dependent on revenue from some form of gambling.  The gambling industry is a huge, worldwide business.  According to The Economist, total revenue from gambling worldwide annually exceeds $400 billion.  That percentage total breaks down as follows:

  • Casinos–31.2 %
  • Sports betting–5 %
  • Bingo, etc.–5.4%
  • Lottery products–29.6 %
  • Non-casino gaming machines–21.6 %
  • Horseracing–7.2 %

The same magazine makes this insightful comment:  “The odds of winning the jackpot in America’s richest lottery, Mega Millions, are one in 176 million.  Euro Millions, available to players in nine western European countries, offers slightly better odds: one in 76 million.  Roulette players, on average, will hit their number once in 36 or 37 attempts.  Poker players’ chances of being dealt a royal flush are much the same as being struck by lightning.”  Despite such overwhelming odds, Americans still gamble and are doing so at stunning rates.  Further, government is now involved in state-sponsored gambling as a matter of public policy.

What is the case against gambling?  Let’s think Christianly about gambling and thereby expose the pernicious nature of this growing pastime for Americans?

  • First of all, a few thoughts on gambling as a goal of public policy.  It seems to me that immoral means have never led to moral ends.  We are no longer skimming the profits from a criminal activity; we are putting the full force of government into the promotion of moral corruption.  Quite frankly, gambling promotion has become a key to many states balancing their respective budgets.  But it is wrong for the state to exploit the weakness of its citizens just to balance the budget.  It is the most unfair and sorrowful form of “painless” taxation.  The money is not coming from a few big bookies but from the pockets of millions of its citizens.  The states have become as hooked on gambling as a source of revenue as any compulsive gambler betting the milk money.  Gambling feeds a get-rich-quick illusion that debilitates society, and thereby causes individual ruin, despair and suicide.  Therefore, gambling corrupts the state and its citizens that both seek “a piece of the action.”
  • Second, how does state-approved gambling impact people’s lives?


  1. Legalized gambling sidetracks a great deal of money.  The amounts that people spend on gambling equals or exceeds the total amount given to religious organizations and/or the total amount spent on elementary and secondary education.
  2. Legalized gambling handicaps a lot of people.  The number of compulsive gamblers in the US is about 5 to 7 % of the population.  Gambling behavior is usually associated with poverty, marital strife, job loss, homelessness and hunger.
  3. Legalized gambling victimizes vulnerable members of society—women, youth and ethnic minorities.
  4. State-sponsored gambling also seems to break down the resistance of people who would not otherwise gamble.  Gambling addiction has risen precipitously since legalized gambling began several decades ago.
  5. State-sponsored gambling has promoted materialism and the fantasy of a life of luxury without labor.
  • Third, it is difficult to fit gambling into a Christian worldview.  There are several reasons:


  1. Gambling encourages the sin of greed and covetousness.
  2. Gambling promotes the mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God.
  3. Gambling undermines absolute dependence on God for His provision.
  4. Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work.
  5. Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.
  6. Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor.

In short, it is difficult to view gambling—private or state-sponsored—as ethically virtuous.  It is one of the most telling signs of a dysfunctional civilization in decline; one of the more discouraging aspects of our Postmodern culture.  But it is pursued by both individuals and the respective states with greater vigor and greater obsession.  There is perhaps no greater sign of cultural declension that that.

See Ryan Butler, Action (21 May 2021); The Economist (10 July 2010), pp. 3-5—“Special Report on Gambling”; Christianity Today (25 November 1991), pp. 16-21; and

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