By / Feb 6

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — With the Super Bowl this weekend, don’t expect many pastors to place a bet on Kansas City or San Francisco to win the game, but a few may have more than a rooting interest riding on the game. 

Despite its legalization across many states, U.S. Protestant pastors remain opposed to sports gambling, but they’re not doing much about it, according to a Lifeway Research study. Few pastors (13%) favor legalizing sports betting nationwide and most (55%) say the practice is morally wrong. 

“Anything can happen in sports, and many Americans want the same allure of an unexpected win in sports to translate into an unexpected financial windfall,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Most pastors see moral hazards in sports betting and believe American society would be better off without it.” 

A majority of pastors (55%) believe betting on sports is morally wrong, including 33% who strongly agree. Around a third (35%) disagree, while 10% aren’t sure. 

While the Bible does not explicitly say, ‘thou shall not gamble,’ biblical principles regarding work and wealth indicate that gambling is unwise. The Bible teaches that sin has a ripple effect that harms not only the participant but those around him. This seems particularly true for addictive behaviors, and gambling is no different.

Miles Mullin, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vice president and chief of staff

Read the full LifeWay newsroom article here.

By / Sep 16

Last year Americans spent a record amount of money on gambling. Casinos raked in $92 billion in 2021, with $53 billion going to commercial casinos and $39 billion to Indian tribal casinos. Commercial sports betting also generated revenues of $4.33 billion, while Americans spent $105 billion on state lotteries. Betting on horse racing also brought the industry $12 billion

In just those categories of legal gambling, Americans spent $213 billion. That’s the same amount of money that Americans spent on fantasy sports leagues ($2.3 billion), movie tickets ($2.45 billion), live concerts ($9 billion), amusement parks ($22 billion), recreational books ($25 billion), video-on-demand ($38 billion), sporting events ($56 billion), and consumer video games ($60.4 billion) combined. It’s even more money than the entire world spends on pet care ($208 billion). 

The record level of spending on gambling is due in part to the loosening of restrictions on gambling over the past decade. Public resistance to tax increases, the political power of gambling interests, and the growing pursuit of easy money have led to the legalization of some form of gambling in the District of Columbia and every state except Utah and Hawaii. 

As the taboo surrounding gambling decreases and more Americans participate, the industries associated with gaming continue to grow. An enormous increase in the amount of money Americans are betting has accompanied the wildfire growth of gambling in America. With an expected compound annual growth rate of 17.34% in online gambling revenue over the next six years, it is imperative for Christians to continue to speak on this issue. 

Since 1890, the Southern Baptist Convention has formally expressed its opposition to legalized gambling. Over the course of more than 100 years, the Convention has adopted 14 resolutions on this issue. The most recent resolution was passed in 1997. It calls on all Christians “to exercise their influence by refusing to participate in any form of gambling or its promotion.” In addition, the resolution urges “political leaders to enact laws restricting and eventually eliminating all forms of gambling and its advertisement.” 

Advocates of legalized gambling, however, have promoted it as an economic development tool and as a purportedly painless source of tax revenue. It is also claimed that making gambling legal prevents the money that would be spent on the activity  from directy funding criminal enterprises. Some Christians—even Southern Baptists who initially supported the SBC’s anti-gambling resolutions—are being persuaded by such arguments. 

Why we must oppose gambling

But such considerations are outweighed by the numerous biblical, ethical, and social reasons for why gambling should be rejected. Here are just a few of the reasons Christians should oppose gambling.

Gambling violates biblical principles

While the Bible contains no “thou shalt not” in regards to gambling, it does contain many insights and principles that indicate that gambling is unwise. For example, the Bible emphasizes the sovereignty of God over human events (Matt. 10:29-30); whereas gambling looks to chance and luck for provision. The Bible indicates that man is to work creatively and use his possessions for the good of others (Eph. 4:28); gambling fosters a something-for-nothing attitude, often to the detriment of our neighbors. 

Scripture calls for careful stewardship of our resources, while gambling is a reckless use of God’s money. The Bible also condemns covetousness and materialism (Matt. 6:24-34), while  gambling promotes both vices. Finally, the moral thrust of the Bible is love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40), whereas gambling usually seeks personal gain and pleasure at another person’s loss and pain.

Gambling contributes to crime and corruption

The growth of crime in those states and cities that legalize gambling is easily demonstrated. The most comprehensive study to date concludes that after three or four years, counties with casino gambling experience increases in rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft, and human trafficking compared to counties without casinos. 

Organized crime also directly benefits from the expansion of gambling. William Webster, a former FBI director, said, “I really don’t see how one can expect to run legalized gambling anywhere without serious problems . . . . Anytime organized crime sees an opportunity to put a fix on something, to get an edge on something, it’ll be there. And gambling is still the largest source of revenue for organized crime.”

Gambling disrupts the economy

Until recently, business and labor leaders have led many of the successful efforts to prevent gambling from entering states and communities because they realized that gambling is a destructive force on the economy and especially harmful for low-income workers. Unfortunately, many current business and labor leaders have become either neutral or supportive of gambling because of its alleged economic benefits.

However, increased problem gambling tends to result in increases in unpaid bills, embezzlement, bankruptcy, and absenteeism from jobs. In addition, gambling does not help a state’s economy in any appreciable way. A lottery returns to the state an average of only about 32 cents of every dollar taken in. The remainder goes to prizes and administration. In only three or four states does the revenue from lotteries, casinos, pari-mutuel betting, and any other existing forms of gambling contribute more than 3% to a state’s total budget. 

The minimal contribution that gambling makes to a state’s economy is more than offset by the social and personal problems it creates.

Gambling destroys lives

Gambling corrupts and hurts individuals and families. One study shows that those “with the lowest socioeconomic status in the poorest neighborhoods were at greatest risk for gambling problems.” Researchers involved in this study speculate that “gambling may be viewed as one of the few opportunities for financial advancement, and perhaps provides the lure as a means for easily gaining money.” 

In addition, gambling preys on the longings of our hearts. The something-for-nothing craving which gambling stimulates undermines character, and the hope of winning a fortune causes some to embezzle and steal to acquire funds to gamble. 

Gambling appeals to the weakness of a person’s character and develops recklessness, callousness, and covetousness. Some gamblers become  psychologically addicted to gambling and find themselves plunged into personal catastrophe. Gambling can never meet these heart longings that it promises to fulfill. 

Gambling hurts innocent people

Gambling harms not only those directly involved in gambling but also harms the innocent, including members of the gambler’s family. Gambling creates financial problems and special tensions in the home. The children of gamblers suffer disproportionately when a gambling parent loses the money for such necessities as food, rent, clothing, and medicine. They also suffer when a gambling parent abandons them in cars, with neighbors, or in gambling daycare centers while they satisfy their gambling addiction. Communities are hurt by the presence of gambling as increasing numbers of people become addicted to gambling and prey on their communities to support their addictions.

Gambling defies justification

Among the arguments advanced to justify gambling is the one that says that all of life is a gamble or a risk. But risk-taking in problem gambling is different from the risks involved in the normal routine of life. The risks in gambling are artificially created. In other ventures, the risk is part of the creative process. For example, the contractor risks labor and capital to build a house and make a profit. Unlike the gambler, he assumes a risk that is necessary to society’s economic life, and he relies on more than chance in seeking to make a profit.

It is also argued that some people like to spend their recreation money betting on horses or playing slot machines, just as others prefer to spend theirs for a round of golf or a movie. Gambling obviously provides a kind of recreational excitement for some, but the cost to individuals, families, the economy, and society is too high to justify it.

How we can fix the problem

Seen in this light, gambling is personally selfish, morally irresponsible, and socially destructive behavior that should be vigorously resisted. Such resistance requires an understanding of the problem, a workable plan of attack, and a personal commitment to work against gambling. The gambling problem results from two interrelated factors: (1) Many people have a desire, often a compulsion, to gamble, and (2) most of these people have access to gambling opportunities.

The ultimate goal of a plan of action is to control the desire to gamble and eliminate the access to gambling opportunities. When the desire to get something for nothing and the opportunity to gamble go hand in hand, resistance to one requires resistance to the other. To attempt to eliminate the desire without abolishing the opportunity is to invite failure. It is a matter of record that as gambling becomes more accessible, more people gamble. Thus, legalization is not the answer to the gambling problem. Instead, it is one primary cause of the gambling problem.

Christians can help limit the harm of gambling by engaging in education, rehabilitation, legislation, and evangelization.

Education: Families, churches, schools, labor unions, businesses, and community organizations can all contribute to an educational program in opposing gambling, especially legalized gambling. Such education should be specifically designed to result in action. The dangers of gambling should be exposed in such a dramatic way that people will cast it out of their lives and communities. People can be led to understand that it is in their best personal interest to refrain from such behavior and that it is in society’s best interest publicly to oppose gambling.

Rehabilitation: For those addicted to gambling, education alone will prove powerless to deal with their problems; they need help. People gamble for many reasons, and no simple and easy solution covers all cases. Pastoral counseling, psychological care, or participation in a group like Gamblers Anonymous can prove helpful. The community and the church can work together in providing programs to seek out and help the compulsive gambler and his or her family.

Legislation: When gambling opportunities are available, both the reformed gambler and the potential gambler are tempted. Since gambling is corruptive and harmful, concerned citizens should work for laws to control and eliminate gambling. Effective legislation both by the states and by the federal government is needed. Anti-gambling legislation will be effective only to the extent that it is backed up by effective law enforcement. Legislation without enforcement fails to deter gambling and stimulates disrespect for the law. A responsible public will insist on, and be willing to pay the price for, strict and efficient law enforcement. Further, the courts must be encouraged to take seriously gambling cases and levy appropriate sentences. For genuine gambling addicts, rehabilitation treatment can be far more effective than jail sentences.

Evangelization: A vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus Christ is the only adequate basis for a stable personal life and a sound society, because only Jesus can change our hearts. Members of Gamblers Anonymous acknowledge that in order to prevent relapse it is necessary to experience certain personality changes within themselves, and that this involves response to spiritual principles in order to make the changes permanent. Moral arguments, economic self-interest, guilt, shame, and other lesser motivations will not prevail against the gambling urge or solve society’s gambling problem.

These are just a few of the ways Christians can help. Any adequate plan to deal with gambling, though, must be both extensive and comprehensive. It must be extensive enough to include the spiritual, educational, and legal approaches. And it must be comprehensive enough to incorporate the family, the world of work, community clubs and organizations, the church, and the government. But it first requires Christians to acknowledge that one of the most helpful ways we can love our neighbor is to oppose the destructive vice of gambling.

By / Mar 24

It is estimated that Americans lost $161 billion to all forms of gambling in 2018, with $306 million of that going to online gambling.1Ultimate USA Gambling Facts & Revenue (Updated 2022), www.onlineunitedstatescasinos.com/usa-gambling-facts/ While this amount is for all types of gambling, the fastest growing kind of gambling is online. Online gambling has been increasing each year, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that gain. As brick-and-mortar gambling sites saw a decrease in activity, online gambling venues took up the slack. Often, people turned to online gambling during the pandemic for entertainment during long days and nights of being stuck indoors. This created the perfect storm for gambling on the 2022 Super Bowl. It is estimated that 31 million people bet more than $7.6 billion on Super Bowl LVI, an increase of 35% over 2021.2Erich Richter, Superbowl Odds 2023: Live Sportsbook Odds, March 2, 2022, www.bonus.com/odds/super-bowl/

With 71% of Americans believing that gambling is morally acceptable, and only 36% of Christians believing that sports betting is morally wrong, it is clear that America has a gambling problem.3Lisa Cannon Green, Is sports gambling moral? You bet, Americans say, January 22, 2016, www. News.lifeway.com/2016/01/22/ is-sports-gambling-moral-you-bet-americans-say. It isn’t only sports betting online that is exploding. The internet offers practically any kind of gambling that someone could desire. 

The internet has certain built-in features that make gambling more dangerous for people, too. Gambling is available 24/7 to anyone with a computer and an internet connection in their homes, which is more than 77% of Americans, or more than 250 million people.4Catherine McNally, Nearly 1 in 4 Households Don’t Have Internet—and a Quarter Million Still Use Dial-Up, August 17, 2021, www.reviews.org/internet-service/how-many-us-households-are-without-internet-connection. In addition, anyone who wants to gamble can easily circumvent age requirements by lying about their age. The fact that people can gamble in the privacy of their homes increases the likelihood that they will gamble more often and for longer periods of time. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to restrict access to online gambling for people who know they have a gambling problem. 

Regrettably, most governments have succumbed to the constant barrage of gambling lobbying and voter initiatives. The vast majority of Americans can buy lottery tickets, play the standard forms of brick-and-mortar gambling like poker, roulette, and even slots, and bet on multiple sporting events all from the privacy and anonymity of their home computer screens. 

While we can’t prevent people from accessing these myriad gambling opportunities, we can help them understand that God has a better way. This should be especially true for Christians. We who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord have committed to live faithful lives before him and the world. We must look to God’s Word for guidance in all things, including whether or not to gamble, and why. 

Getting to the heart of gambling

To know what the Bible has to say about gambling, it can be helpful to know why people gamble and then look at what Scripture has to say about that. People gamble for a variety of reasons, but regardless of the reason, the Bible points to a better way. Below are the principal reasons that people gamble and the Bible’s better answer to the need they are trying to meet with their gambling.

Some people gamble to get money. This is the primary reason most people gamble. It is a demonstrable fact that more people gamble as the jackpot increases or they place a high value on the prize. The Christian who gambles in order to win money has failed to understand or accept that God desires to be their provider. Scripture says God will supply all the needs of the person who puts his trust in God (Matt. 10:31; Phil. 4:19). The person who gambles out of greed or for worldly wealth is valuing the wrong thing (Luke 12:15). The person who gambles out of financial desperation is trusting in the wrong source for his need. Even if he wins enough to escape his destitution, which is highly unlikely, he has chosen to reject God’s way to meet his needs (Matt. 6:33).

Some people gamble for entertainment. This is another primary reason people gamble. People will often gamble online because they are bored or they are looking for a distraction. And some people argue that gambling is just a form of entertainment, like going to a movie or a restaurant, but that is not true. No one will lose all of his retirement savings by visiting a restaurant or going to a movie, but some people will lose that and more from gambling. Christians need to consider what they are supporting and empowering when they spend their God-provided money. God calls Christians to be good stewards of their possessions, that includes their money (Luke 6:10-13). When we empower gambling venues with our money, we help keep them in business to prey on people with gambling addictions. Empowering institutions that ruin people’s lives for a few moments of entertainment is not something that Christians should take part in (Eph. 5:11).

Some people gamble to feel important or special. Casinos, whether brick-and-mortar or online, specialize in selling an illusion to people. They make them feel important in exchange for their money. Some people crave this attention and return over and over because it feeds their sense of importance and value. Any anything we rely upon apart from the Lord for our value is an idol (Psa. 135:18). The Bible tells us that God is best able to tell us of our worth and importance. Jesus can give a person a permanent realization of her worth. We are so loved by God that he sent Jesus to die a gruesome death on a cross in order to redeem us for himself (John 3:16). Through Jesus, the Christian is a child of God. That is a permanent status that should see any Christian through feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt (2 Tim. 2:13).

Some people gamble to compete against others. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition. However, when that competition threatens to destroy another person, it is no longer healthy. The Bible reminds us that we are our brother’s keeper and that we should love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). We have a responsibility to look out for each other. Gambling encourages the exact opposite. The only money available through gambling is the money that someone else has lost. Neighbor love calls on Christians to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves (Mark 12:31; Phil. 2:3). Gambling makes us predators rather than protectors.

Some people gamble for the thrill. Again, there is nothing in the Bible that tells us to live boring, uneventful lives. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would have joyful, meaningful lives through faith in him (John 10:10). The question that a thrill-seeking gambler needs to ask is whether or not the thrill of gambling is the best source of joy, happiness, excitement, or meaning. Gambling’s thrill often comes at someone else’s expense. Your involvement can perpetuate the predatory nature of the gambling industry. And while the thrill of gambling might last for a few seconds, in the end it is replaced by disappointment. If a person wins, it will not satisfy the longings of her soul (Eccl. 5:10). If a person loses, which he almost always does, he is left with emptiness and a potentially significant loss of resources. When the thrill is placed in the prospect of winning and the result is the opposite, that is a sucker’s bet. Jesus offers true and lasting joy (John 15:11).

Some people gamble to escape their problems. Gambling offers escape for a short while. In the end, however, it adds to people’s problems. Once gambling’s distraction is gone, the person’s problems remain and are compounded by the loss of money, which may very well be a principal reason the person was seeking a distraction in the first place. Jesus called on people to admit their problems and place them on him, not run from them (Matt. 11:28-30). The Apostle Peter wrote that Christians can place all their cares on the Lord because he cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7). Christianity encourages people to acknowledge their problems and sins and turn to God for help with them. He is ready and able to help those who admit their need and seek him. Anything else we run to for help will fall short. 

Some people gamble to feel hopeful. It is hard to carry on when hope is lost. Gambling offers a temporary hope that seldom rewards the person who leans on it. Until the ball falls in the slot on the roulette wheel or the last card is turned over, the gambler feels all the hope in the world. Anything is possible in that moment, but then all that hope is dashed and even greater fear and hopelessness rushes in. God, on the other hand, is the God of second chances. He has demonstrated in the Bible and in countless lives all around us that those who put their trust in him will never be disappointed or hopeless (Rom. 15:4). God is greater than any problem someone might have and greater than any obstacle that stands in their way (Phil. 4:19). 

Whether someone is gambling online or at a casino,, the Bible makes it clear that any activity that replaces trust in God with luck dethrones God in that person’s life. God ordained work as our means of support. From the beginning, when God put our original parents in the Garden, he revealed that he designed us to work (Gen. 2:15) as a means of his provision for us. Gambling perverts that design and promises something for nothing. That promise is as empty as the serpent’s first deception. Luck is the sand that will not support a life. God is the rock that will (Matt. 7:24-27).

There is more to be said about gambling, yet regardless of why someone gambles, God is the better choice. Gambling is a false idol. It destroys, perverts, and lies to people who look to it for anything. The true source of happiness and meaning in life is found in God. He alone can deliver what he promises. He alone is dependable and trustworthy. We must all learn to trust him and place our hope and futures in him. When we do that, we will never be disappointed. May Jesus be Lord in our lives.

  • 1
    Ultimate USA Gambling Facts & Revenue (Updated 2022), www.onlineunitedstatescasinos.com/usa-gambling-facts/
  • 2
    Erich Richter, Superbowl Odds 2023: Live Sportsbook Odds, March 2, 2022, www.bonus.com/odds/super-bowl/
  • 3
    Lisa Cannon Green, Is sports gambling moral? You bet, Americans say, January 22, 2016, www. News.lifeway.com/2016/01/22/ is-sports-gambling-moral-you-bet-americans-say.
  • 4
    Catherine McNally, Nearly 1 in 4 Households Don’t Have Internet—and a Quarter Million Still Use Dial-Up, August 17, 2021, www.reviews.org/internet-service/how-many-us-households-are-without-internet-connection.
By / Mar 21

I am an avid college basketball fan. During my college years at the University of Tennessee, our basketball program took major steps forward in being competitive each year, routinely making the NCAA tournament. I follow my team and interact with various sports accounts on social media, which has put me in the target audience for many marketers including most sports betting apps and other forms of online gambling. These companies routinely target younger to middle-aged men, especially those who show interest in sports. I can’t go an hour or two online without seeing multiple ads for sports gambling, and even more so during March Madness. And due to the power of algorithms and digital marketing, the more I research this subject (and even you simply reading this type of article) will increase the likelihood of seeing gambling ads across the internet and social media platforms.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of online gambling especially related to sports. Whether professional sports like football, soccer, and basketball or collegiate sports including the current NCAA basketball tournaments, many of us are inundated with countless advertisements about making a quick buck or even betting on our team to win it all. Most of these ads are tailored to our favorite teams, often using images from high-profile games with the allure of “instant bonuses,” free credits, or an easy win. This time of year, online gambling surges leave many in their wake. 

According to The New York Times, about 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently allow sports gambling either online or in person, which means that over 30% of the population is able to legally bet on March Madness or other sporting events, across sports. These deceptive schemes or forms of “entertainment” can ruin someone’s life quickly, particularly those who may be prone to addictions or destructive behavior. They can be devastating and predatory. But how did this explosion in online sports betting become so widespread, and what is the human toll? And how does the Church begin to navigate these complex ethical issues that are plaguing our communities?

The human toll of gambling

Gambling has become an epidemic around the world in recent decades. It is important to note that gambling is not a new phenomenon or simply related to sports, as this form of entertainment (and addiction) has long been a part of our culture in the U.S., ranging from the allure of Sin City to the lottery in many states across the nation. Due to the digital age, the means have become easier in recent years, and gambling addictions can be assumed as predominant throughout our communities. This is true for about 1-3% of our country’s population, which brings the total of those dealing with serious gambling addictions to over 10 million people. Gambling accounts for about $53 billion of revenue in the U.S. alone, with $900 million in sports-related gambling in 2019.

And it isn’t hard to see the devastating effects of gambling in our communities. Whether it’s a neighbor getting $5 on pump 2 and $10 worth of scratch-offs or intoxicated casino-goers racking up major tabs with the hopes of striking it big, the house always wins by design. It’s clear that gambling is an extremely attractive venture for many as it can bring in desired tax revenue for local governments and be a lucrative business venture. Though if the chances of winning were actually high enough for most to win, then gambling wouldn’t be such a profitable business model. Online gambling companies, especially those connected to sports, know they will draw a major profit as most business leaders will never willingly put themselves at great risk of massive financial loss even if the public suffers as a result of their business.

Sports gambling exploded after the 2018 Supreme Court decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which opened the door to online sports betting across 21 states. PASPA was a 1992 federal law signed by then President George H.W. Bush, which prohibited states from offering sports gambling, with very few exceptions. The act did not make sports gambling itself a federal crime, but instead allowed the “Attorney General, as well as professional and amateur sports organizations, to bring civil actions to enjoin violations.” While many states allowed casinos, racetracks, and other forms of gambling prior to this decision, this case brought by the State of New Jersey allowed for sports gambling to be a major fixture in these institutions including online or app-based sports gambling which have become especially prominent during playoffs, tournaments, and large sporting events.

Given the ubiquity of sports betting in our digital society, it is likely that you or someone you know well is gambling or is struggling with addictive behavior. In light of the addictive and predatory nature of gambling, how should the Church respond to this growing epidemic in light of the biblical ethic?

The Church and the common good

The Christian ethic reminds us of some core truths that apply in conversations about gambling and addiction. First and foremost, we are each called to live righteous and God-honoring lives, knowing that everything we have is from God himself (1 Cor 4:7). Among Christians, it can be tempting to simply give God “his portion” of our income and fail to see that all the rest is a gift from God, too. We are called to wisely steward these gifts as we seek to love God and love our neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). This all comes down to the perennial question of ethics: Just because we can do something, does that mean we should?

It is important to note here that God is the creator of the entire universe, and he also created each of us in his image whether or not we choose to fulfill our purpose as his image-bearers. It may be one thing to participate in a company tournament raffle or to have a friendly wager between friends, but online gambling and app-based sports betting is a completely different situation especially if one is flippant about their stewardship of God’s provisions. Often gambling is done where one sacrifices their necessities or provision with the hopes of winning big.

Another angle that is not often discussed in light of gambling are the social effects of our sin, greed, and pride. Like the man who gets $5 of gas and $10 of scratch-offs, the allure of gambling can be used to take advantage of certain segments of our neighbors and communities. As I mentioned above, gambling is a predatory practice — exploiting some for the benefit of others. An important question for all of us to ask is how does one’s participation in this type of industry, even if it is done without malicious motives, encourage or sustain these predatory practices throughout our society? Does your involvement prop up this business model that is known to exploit the weaknesses of others and dehumanize them in the process?

Similar to how payday lending is predatory with astronomically high interest rates and short loan periods, online gambling is designed to line the pockets of the company rather than to promote the common good rooted in the dignity of all people. Taking advantage of our fellow image-bearers, especially in terms of financial provisions and their economic future through highly addictive means like contemporary sports gambling apps, is morally incongruent with the biblical ethic as it is a form of stealing and being deluded by the love of money (Ex. 20:17; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 6:10). It does not live up to the standard which Christ gave us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Mark 12:31). Gambling also leads to countless other social ills, including the breakdown of families, other highly addictive behaviors, loss of homes and jobs, and extreme financial peril.

Gambling, including the meteoric rise of sports betting, often leads to encouraging vice in our society rather than virtuous and wise behaviors. It is important for the Church to remember that all policies, laws, and practices are inherently moral by nature as they encourage or discourage certain behaviors. As many in our communities are lured in by the delusions of quick cash, massive payouts, and a long list of ‘what-ifs’, the Church must be ready to care for and love those who are seeking to break these addictions. Far from being an isolated and simple issue, gambling has unfortunately become a mainstay in our society, especially in this digital age.

By / Feb 11

A record 31.4 million American adults plan to bet on Super Bowl LVI, a 35% increase from 2021, according to new research by the American Gaming Association. While half that number is casual bets among friends, 18.2 million will place traditional sports wagers online, at a retail sportsbook, or with a bookie. This is an increase of 78% from the 2021 Super Bowl.

For the past several years Americans have been increasingly exposed to predatory gambling, the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit. Unfortunately, rather than protect the vulnerable, state governments are colluding with the profiteers to exploit ​​their citizens. For-profit gambling, or commercial gambling, is illegal unless granted special legal exemption by the government — which many states are increasingly willing to provide. 

Until three years ago, Nevada was the only state in which a person could legally wager on the results of a game. But in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional. The vote in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association was 6-3, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. That decision opened the floodgates for legalized sports betting. 

Currently, 45 million Americans can legally wager in their home state. The states where sports betting is currently legal are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington D.C. North Carolina and New Mexico have limited sports betting via tribal casinos. Mississippi also allows online sports betting, but only on-site at licensed casinos. Maryland, Nebraska, and Ohio are likely to legalize sports betting by the end of 2022 or early 2023. 

Because of these changes in state law, gamblers across the U.S. can wager on various sports competitions at a sportsbook. Over the past few years, advertising for sportsbooks such as FanDuel, Caesars, and DraftKings has become ubiquitous in states that allow sports betting. The advertising is prominently displayed on subways, buses, and buildings and heard constantly on radio and television. According to research, 106 million American adults (41%) recall advertising related to gambling in the past year — an increase of 32 million people (12%) from 2020. 

The human cost of predatory gambling

States are reaping the benefits in the form of increased tax revenues. But the human cost is largely being ignored. According to experts, federal and state governments still devote few resources to tracking and treating people with gambling problems.

“It’s this ticking time bomb,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “We have to take action now, but the problem is almost impossible to quantify.”

State governments continue to legalize predatory gambling despite decades of research that it is destructive to their communities. For instance, the National Gambling Impact Study estimated the lifetime divorce rates for problem and pathological gamblers were 39.5% and 53.5% respectively; the same rate for non-gamblers was 18.2%. And a study that looked at the spread of casino gambling in 300 Metropolitan Statistical Areas found that the presence of a casino reduces voluntarism, civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital within 15 miles of a community where it is located.

According to a study by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling. In areas with the highest “neighborhood disadvantage” — determined by census factors such as the percentage of people who were unemployed, received public assistance, and/or live in poverty — more than 11% were problem gamblers, compared to just 5% in neighborhoods ranking in the top fifth of economic advantage.

Numerous studies demonstrate disparities in health and health services including problem and pathological gambling among ethnic and racial minority groups. Overall, gambling activities appear to be frequent among ethnic and minority populations with rates ranging between 12.9 and 87%. The prevalence of gambling disorders have been reported as low as 0.3% in Hispanics and as high as 58% in South East Asian refugees. 

One survey ​​found that Black Americans spend nearly twice as much on lottery tickets as do white or Hispanic respondents. The average reported expenditure among Blacks was $200 per year, $476 among those who played the lottery the previous year. Black men have the highest average expenditures. Poor Americans also spend a larger percentage of their wealth on lottery tickets than other households, leading to a reduction in spending on other activities. During the time 21 states implemented a state lottery, household expenditures declined 2.4% for expenses not related to gambling. The implication is that households spent that money on lottery tickets rather than on other goods and services.

Without the legal, administrative, regulatory, and promotional advantages provided by state governments, predatory gambling would not be spreading so quickly into mainstream American life as they are today, and would likely still exist only on the fringes of the society.

How Christians can respond

Christians should care about the effects of predatory gambling on their neighbors. Governments are entrusted with seeking the welfare of their citizens, not exploiting their weaknesses. There are several things you can do to help stop the spread of this type of gambling: 

  • Ask state legislators to oppose any expansion of gambling and/or to roll back current laws authorizing legal gaming. Find the contact information for your state legislators and call or write them directly.
  • Persuade local governments to enact regulations that prevent legalized gambling companies from targeting vulnerable groups, such as minorities, the elderly, and the poor. Be on the lookout for gambling related initiatives, and show up to meetings to express your opposition.
  • Promote awareness within their churches and communities about the harms of predatory gambling. ERLC has produced a free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Anti-Gambling Sunday. 
By / Aug 12

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Anti-Gambling Sunday. 

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.