Wondering About Gambling: A Response

In the February issue of Adventist World, an article titled “Wondering about Gambling” sought to answer the question “Is gambling wrong in itself, or is the problem gambling addiction?” Pastor and Professor Angel Hernandez accurately pinpointed how from a biblical perspective, gambling is “grounded in selfishness and greed” and “goes against the Christian gospel with its stress on sacrificial love.”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11658

Interesting article! Gambling is defined by those who are against it, in religion, and yet they can call ‘investing’ as an okay way to increase monies.One mans sin is another mans rightful gain!

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Some observations:

  1. Bible readers will balance out:
    “those who reap where they have not sown” against
    “we have all drunk from wells we did not dig”

  2. The existence of risk, does not determine the ethic of investment

  3. The risk of corruption infests the human condition - it even happens in schools and churches.

  4. Investment offers risk and reward over time. Investment in eternity is not without risk!

Some theologies suggest that the odds are stacked against salvation, others assert that our calling and election is sure. In between which there is a Spectrum - so to speak.

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Since no one has perfect knowledge about the world, and no one has the ability to predict the future with accuracy, everything in life is a gamble to an extent. Every business investment, every purchase, every relationship entered into, involves uncertainty and risk, and therefore is a gamble. It’s a little facile to single out certain forms of gambling for opprobrium while tolerating and encouraging others.

The church’s promotion of tithing is asking members to gamble 10% of their income (including those who can least afford it) on the unlikely prospect that either (a) God has appointed the local conference of SDAs as the depository of tithes; or (b) that the tithe money will do more good in the hands of conference officials than in the hands of the parishioner.

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Greed is bad and wealth distribution is unfortunately skewed.

But most gambling in casinos has a payoff of slightly less than 50%. In roulette the odds of winning are 1 in 37, but when the better hits a one dollar bet the yield is only $35. The extra $2 is the vigorish that the casino keeps. The odds in the other games are similar.

If someone gambles more than a few hands his returns will regress to the mean and the better will generally keep 95 cents for every dollar bet. If the better continues to let the one dollar ride eventually he will lose the whole dollar regardless of how many winning hands are hit in the meantime.

Investing is nothing like that, an investor would have to be really bad at stock picking to lose his entire principal; and letting it ride (or reinvesting dividends and gains) will grow the initial “bet” to where it would typically double in 7 to 10 years. The investor can use the gains to care for family members, donate to charity, pay taxes to fund government services or for admittedly nefarious purposes.

Those investments gains need to be available to everyone, not just the one percent; but in no way is investing the same as gambling.

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When I go to the casino for an evening, I purchase $100 of entertainment. This is about what I would pay for a ticket to a Broadway show, or for seats at hockey or ball game. I play the $100 until I lose it all or until I win an extra $100. If I win an extra $100, then I put my initial $100 back in my pocket and play with the extra $100 until I lose it - in this case my evening’s entertainment is free.

I also buy lottery tickets from time to time - the lotteries in Canada are operated by the provincial governments and the profits are paid to them. So my lottery purchase is like a gift I make to my provincial government. And while there are tremendous inefficiencies in government, in some ways private charities are worse, so if I’m feeling charitable I don’t mind making a donation to my province. In exchange for $3, I can dream for a few days until the draw is made and my loss is confirmed.

Now I remember from my youth that there are/were extremists in my old church with the view that all entertainment, merrymaking, frivolous enjoyment or anything that could be considered “fun” ought to be eschewed. And yet other more extreme members propounded the view that any funds devoted to “fun” ought to have been donated to the local conference of SDAs. Needless to say, I don’t share any of these views. I’m more of an Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 sort of guy.

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When the stock market crashes, then people will realize how much like GAMBLING playing the stock market really was…but it will be too late.

There was a time when other things, such as life insurance, were thought to be inconsistent with a faithful, God-dependent existence. God would take care of you, or your church family would (as prescribed in Leviticus) if disaster happened - you shouldn’t be throwing money away on an insurance policy - it was like hedging your bets. And we see language like that in the stock market, i.e. “hedge funds” or “hedge managers”. All to mitigate the risks we necessarily take in our daily lives, because nothing in life is a Sure Thing. However, I can decrease some risk, say, by obeying traffic laws, when I wouldn’t be able to do so at the Reno crap tables… maybe it comes back to greed/delusions of grandeur, and if we are being controlled by it.

You certainly can mitigate your risk at the craps table, but like everything else, there’s a cost to it. The most obviously way to mitigate loss is to bet both the come line and the don’t come line. You are guaranteed not to lose any money 35/36 times. You of course will never win any money - the best you can do is break even. This is no fun, and playing craps is mostly just about entertainment, not trying to hedge bets.

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