Risking It All

January 30th, 2014

This Sunday is Super Bowl XLVIII, the National Football League championship game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Super Bowl Sunday has become a national holiday of sorts, a day when even non-football fans gather with their friends to watch the big game—or at least the commercials and halftime show. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $12.3 billion on their Super Bowl parties last year. That’s almost twice as much as they spent on Halloween!

But there is more money being exchanged than what it takes to buy all those paper plates, snacks, and decorations. The Nevada Gaming Control Board reported that last year gamblers bet $98.9 million on the Super Bowl in their state casinos. While that is certainly a lot of money, it’s only part of the picture, because most wagers aren’t made in Nevada (where sports betting is legal). Friends and coworkers place bets with one another, and a lot of people bet through bookies and other illegal gambling operations. An exact number is not known, but some experts believe that somewhere close to $10 billion was gambled on last year’s Super Bowl.

A Losing Proposition

There’s no way to know how much of that $10 billion represents losing bets, but one thing is for sure: Gambling establishments only exist to make money. Whether it’s a state-sponsored institution, such as a lottery, or an illegal operation, it is only successful if people are losing money.

Because the odds of winning a jackpot are hundreds of millions to one, many people who purchase lottery tickets fully expect to lose that money. But that doesn’t keep people from getting hooked or spending money they don’t really have to lose. Reason succumbs to dreams of hitting it big and winning millions.

Gambling is an addictive behavior. For some gamblers bets become more attractive as the odds become more ridiculous. It is not uncommon for people to lose their homes or life savings. United Methodist pastor Paul Fleck recalls working with a young man addicted to sports gambling: “Chasing the rush— meeting the spread—consumed his life, destroyed his marriage, and cost him his job. He lost the trust of his friends and family. It seems harmless to begin with, but the devil sneaks up on you that way, and gambling is one of the evils the devil uses to destroy lives.”

A Menace to Society

Scripture says very little about gambling, but it says plenty about using our money and resources faithfully and about making material gain less of a priority. And, at the heart of every financial bet is the idea of making some quick and easy money. However, the Bible warns us that “[t]he stingy try to get rich fast, unaware that loss will come to them” (Proverbs 28:22). For these reasons many Christian churches have taken stances on gambling. The Presbyterian Church (USA) calls upon its members to refuse to gamble and “to join efforts to regulate, restrict, and eventually eliminate [all] forms of gambling.” The United Methodist Church calls gambling “a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government.” They implore all Christians to abstain from gambling and minister to those who are victimized by it.

When it comes to gambling, people do lose—often. It is best for us to avoid the temptation and to consider how our actions, even unintentionally, encourage the behavior. Also, it is imperative that we come to the aid of those who are addicted to such a dangerous activity.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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