18 November 2006
When I was probably around 12 years old, the Catholic church just outside the housing development I grew up in had a bazaar. Along with games like throwing a baseball to break rows of real plates, they had games of chance.
One such game involved a man rolling a big square dice-like block with different colors on each surface. Around all four sides of the game booth was a surface of plywood with painted segments in colors that matched the colors on the block. People put their money on a color. The man rolled the block (or had someone in the audience roll it). If the color your money was on turned up on the block, the man doubled your money. If your color didn’t win, the man took your money.
I watched for awhile and it looked like people were having fun, especially the people who got their money doubled. It looked easy enough to play so I plunked down a quarter. I lost, but I could just as easily have won (or so I thought) so I tried again. My color won. It was exciting, and a real thrill to win. The game was, indeed, fun to play. But, before long, all my money was lost to the game. So I went home quick and got some more.
I actually sold some of the coveted Morgan silver dollars that my grandmother had given me. The kid next door gave me a little more than a dollar for them. With more money to gamble with, I jumped on my bike and pedaled furiously back to the bazaar. Time was short. I had to recoup my losses. But, before long, all my money was gone again. And I felt pretty bad about it.
Around the same time in my life, I went to Boy Scout camp for a week. My parents made sure I had some spending money for camp. One night, a bunch of older boys I knew were crowded into a tent playing poker for money by flashlight. They encouraged me to play. I never played poker before but they let me watch and it looked like they were having a lot of fun. I soon joined in. Shortly thereafter, all my money was gone. And I felt pretty bad about it.
Nowadays, gambling has been given the more respectable name of “gaming.” Oh boy! That sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Let’s play the game. It’s exciting because maybe, just maybe, we’ll get lucky and make a lot of money. Easy money. Maybe we’ll hit the jackpot. This hope motivates so many people to hand over money to casinos or the dispensers of colorful lottery tickets. The possibility of easy money is a powerful lure.
I have that Catholic church and the Boy Scouts to thank (no offenses intended) for teaching me about the reality of gambling. I learned my lessons as a boy and I have not repeated them as a man. I have never been to a casino. I was invited to speak at a convention in Las Vegas several years ago, all expenses paid. I politely declined. Las Vegas is the last place on earth I would want to go to. I have never bought a lottery ticket. I refuse to buy into any of the many sports pools and other gaming schemes that float around my factory workplace.
I know of people who are, in my mind, addicted to gambling in its many forms. They go to casinos on a regular basis. Some are regulars at off-track betting parlors. Many buy lottery tickets. Some buy lottery tickets every single day—lots of them. They explain it away as entertainment. They tell of the time they won money. They are in bondage to a false hope.
I have explained to my sons that gambling with the money God entrusts to us is wrong. I have told them that there are two Biblical ways to acquire wealth. One is to earn it; to use the physical strength, the knowledge, the talents, the opportunities and the time God blesses us with to increase our wealth. And all the while, never forgetting that it all belongs to Him. Our responsibility, as children of the King, is to be good stewards of the gifts He gives to us. Money, and the ability to earn it, is one of many gifts He entrusts to us.
The other Biblical way for individuals to increase wealth it through inheritance. But that never negates the Biblical admonition and responsibility to work.
And I’ve explained to my sons that the lure of easy money through gambling of any kind is a snare that the ungodly culture around us employs on the lazy and unwise among us. Christians are not immune to the snare.
It is a good analogy for a country boy to hear. My sons, like so many other country boys, are well acquainted with trapping of wild game. They know how a trap works. They know it appears harmless. They know a good trap is inviting. And they know that it is a pitiful sight to see an animal caught in a trap. So many men and women these days are caught like animals in the snare of gambling.
I have written this story here for a reason that will become more clear in an upcoming blog. I felt compelled to write about gambling several months ago after reading what Lynn Bartlett wrote over at hher blog. She told the story of driving by land in Minnesota where her grandfather once farmed. An indian casino is now there.
That brought to mind a lyric from that old Joni Mitchell song: “They take paradise and they put up a parking lot.” It’s worse when they take good farm land and put up a casino. Much worse. How incredibly sad.