1. the activity or practice of playing at a game of chance for money or other stakes.
2. the act or practice of risking the loss of something important by taking a chance or acting recklessly.
Already there are 12 casinos in the state, with a 13th on its way and a 14th license to be awarded shortly in Philadelphia. According to visitpacasinos.com, this makes Pennsylvania the 2nd largest gambling market in the United States. Along with the new casinos the state has sports betting – including horse races – a vibrant lottery, and has just allowed small games of chance into bars that complete the application process.
Those who support increasing gambling often speak of the revenue it will raise for the state. This is true, in the short term, but doesn’t take into account the side effects of legalized gambling. In years past, the data showing the dangers of gambling was more sparse, but that has changed in recent years. As Pennsylvania opens up legalized gambling, the citizens are being exposed to a variety of known and documented dangers and risks, many of which can be seen here. Family conflicts, lost work productivity, even health problems can result.
In previous years the anti-gambling movement had a friend in State Representative Paul Clymer, but he is retiring now, and there is nobody who seems ready to step into his shoes. It seems as if Pennsylvania will remain a gambling state for the foreseeable future, and I feel strongly that this is a bad development.
There is much misinformation out there regarding gambling. My daughter told me the story of a Chinese immigrant who would purchase scratch-off lottery tickets and then throw them out. When asked about it the woman was excited to share that she was giving the money to schools that needed the money. She had been confused because the lottery posters said the money went to support education, not realizing that only pennies of every dollar went to any such good cause. If one well-intentioned educated woman made this mistake, you can be sure others have as well.
In addition, many people who walk into a casino assume they have a fair chance of winning. Of course, that is not true, and the games are rigged in favor of the casinos. In the same way that stores don’t charge you less for an item than what they paid for it, so it is with casinos: They exist for the sole purpose of making a profit, and that means the amount of money that comes into a casino is always going to be greater than the amount that goes out again. If this weren’t true, then all the casinos would go bankrupt. To think somehow you can beat the casino is foolish, and it’s the same kind of magical thinking that I discovered in the primitive Nabak people of Papua New Guinea. They believe, for example, that you can make the rain come by blowing up into the air. Of course, they cannot summon the rain, and you cannot win at gambling.
The truth of the matter is this: Many people can enter a casino, gamble for a while, then go home. They aren’t – and never will become – problem gamblers. But many will, and the American Gaming Association estimates that almost 3% of the U.S. population have some form of serious gambling problem.
In the excitement of gambling, chemicals are released in the brain which make the gambler feel good. Why else would anyone throw away their money? For some, however, this feeling becomes a craving, a need. They must have that feeling again, so they gamble again. And again. And again. The problem is, of course, that they never feel the same “rush” as they did the first time, so they must gamble more – and take greater risks – in a hopeless search for that same initial rush. This process is well understood by addiction specialists.
Those who become addicted find it very hard to escape their craving, and to make matters worse, the public perception of gambling addiction is different than the view of chemical addiction. People wrongly believe that, since no chemical is involved (such as drugs or alcohol), the gambling addiction is somehow easier to break or less damaging. This is a false assumption. A gambling addiction can be just as destructive as an addiction to any chemical.
As a Christian, I feel a need to raise my voice against this new scourge. Although the Bible doesn’t address gambling by name, it is very clear that this type of behavior is against God’s teachings, and more important will lead you away from God. In Luke 16:9-12, Jesus talks about the value of keeping safe the valuables you have been trusted with, such as money. And the next verse, Luke 16:13, is the very famous statement by Jesus that “No servant can serve two masters”. He states very clearly that you “…cannot serve both God and worldly riches.” A similar conversation can be found in Matthew 25:14-30 in the Parable of the Talents. Throwing money away at a gaming table or slot machine flies in the face of God’s wisdom.
I’m not sure what I can do to change this situation in my state. Perhaps enough voices can be raised up that our elected leaders will hear. Perhaps my words will convince someone else to resist this temptation, or to stop its spread in their own state or country. If you know someone who gambles, or is thinking of starting, speak up. There are many other worthy pursuits that aren’t wasteful like gambling, and that give back to the world. Let’s work together to make the world a ripe field for those things to flourish, and let’s bury those dice!