Written by Peter Blanch
Of all addictions, gambling is one of those that doesn’t just affect the individual, but has far reaching implications for the lives of those around the gambler. It might not have the obvious health affects of addiction to alcohol or tobacco or other drugs, but for the gambler there is always one more throw of the dice, one more hand to play, one more person to borrow or steal money from. The life of a gambling addict is one of expensive thrills leading to deep desperation.
Gambling in our country has been steadily increasing for quite some time now. In 1999, the citizens of the state of NSW spent $963 per head on gambling. In 2012 it was $1396 per head. Today it is already over $1500 per person. We Aussies have caught the disease far more than our friends in New Zealand ($495 per person), Canada ($393 per person) or the USA ($325 per person). The size of the gambling industry in our country is now enormous – a Productivity Commission report into gambling, released in June 2010, stated that total annual gambling revenue in Australia is now over $19 billion. The report also stated that, with the increasing size of the industry, around 70% of Australians participate in some form of gambling on an annual basis.
The arguments used to defend gambling are plenty: “not all gamblers are addicts”; “many people gamble only within their means”; “what is so wrong with a quick flutter now and then?”; “it’s just a little bit of harmless fun”; “why should some people be denied the fun of occasional pleasure because there is a small group of problem gamblers?”.
Personally, I find none of these arguments [or any other argument in favour of gambling] persuasive. Let me be very clear – I have no hesitation in saying that gambling is sinful; and as such it is something that a christian should never be involved with.
While there are many reasons for opposing gambling, there is one reason that makes all gambling unacceptable: because gambling is utterly self-centred. The gambler hopes to gain at someone else’s expense. The gambler always looks to profit from some else’s loss. In any form of gambling I am wanting to take your money and you are wanting to take mine! The rules of the game we play will determine who wins and who loses, but we are both trying to win each other’s money. What is always involved in gambling is coveting – the unloving desire to gain other people’s possessions at their expense. And it is this sinful desire that drives gambling.
Unfortunately the chief guardian of our society—the Government—has become corrupt in the matter of gambling, for it has itself become addicted. Our government is no longer able to withstand the pressure of the gambling industry and even worse, like so many addicts, it is now helping those who push gambling. Like all addicts our government is in denial— and unable to see the problem or the damage that it is causing.
Part of our Government’s addiction can be seen in the dependence upon the tax revenue from gambling. In 2009, NSW State tax revenue from gambling was $5 billion, that is, 10 per cent of all state tax revenue. With gambling now such a big contributor to government income it compromises the ability of the government to make decisions that might negatively impact the gambling industry.
This leaves our community weakened and without the defense of those who have been entrustedwith the power to protect. It is not easy to create laws that will defend us from the predators. We do not want abolition so we try to develop harm minimisation strategies. But these strategies are continually undermined by the size and power of the industry and its aggressive predatory tactics (such as the prevalence of sports betting advertising on prime time TV).
There is very little political will to tackle these issues. Most addicts are in denial and do not want to be stopped. Most non-addicts do not feel directly affected by the problems. They have small flutter but they are able to limit their gambling. Addiction is not their problem and they do not want their freedoms limited by other people’s problems.
But change is just what we need. The effects of gambling on an addict and their family is devastating and the cost to our society is enormous. The corruption of our governmental processes should not be tolerated. At best, the law can minimise damage and make the life of predators unprofitable and difficult. This is worthwhile. But we need more.
We need a society that is genuinely concerned for our weaker members. We need a society that is concerned for the common good as well as the rights of individuals. We need a society where individuals will forego their pleasures and rights for the sake of others. This can only happen when the Holy Spirit changes hearts and lives with the power of the gospel.
As we come into a prime time of year for sports gambling, please be aware of your own potential for greed and addiction and be prayerful for yourself and others. I know fellow christians who have fallen prey to this disease, particularly at this time of year.