The American Panacea Of Sports Betting

Mar 25th, 2023 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

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

Sports’ betting, illegal outside Nevada for decades, is all the rage now.  The sports gambling industry’s explosion is the outcome of a Supreme Court decision in 2018, Murphy v. NCAA. In that decision a 7-to-2 majority ruled that a law passed by Congress and signed by George H.W. Bush in 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, violated the 10th Amendment’s anti-commandeering principle. The law barred sports gambling in states that did not already allow it. Barton Swaim of the Wall Street Journal observes that “The federal government, in other words, was allowing Nevada to keep its sports-gambling program while barring nearly all other states from creating their own. The idea that Congress can stop some states from doing what the Constitution permits others to do is ludicrous. The upshot, in any case, is that betting on sports is no longer taboo. It is regulated and allegedly respectable. And although players and officials are banned by their leagues from betting on games, the sheer omnipresence of sports betting these days makes one suspicious every time a referee makes an indefensible call (is he on the take?).”

Sports’ betting is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, “each of which is happy to bear the social consequences in exchange for more revenue.”  Nebraska sports’ betting is now legal after Gov. Pete Ricketts, in 2021, signed the state’s first-ever commercial casino gaming bill into law.  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.

Swaim:  “Most forms of gambling, it’s fair to say, manifest a desire for money so inordinate that one is willing to take stupid risks to get more of it. Heavily investing in a stock you haven’t researched, putting your savings in a Ponzi scheme, betting on the Chiefs or the Eagles with money you can’t afford to lose—these are follies of the human heart.” So, how should we think about this explosion of gambling, especially sports’ betting?  Permit me a review of a few thoughts I had offered in an Issues in Perspective from 2021:

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 destructive 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 peoples’ 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.  Nonetheless, it is pursued by both individuals and the respective states with passionate enthusiasm and boundless obsession.  There is perhaps no greater sign of cultural declension that that.

See Barton Swaim in the Wall Street Journal (9 February 2023); 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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