It’s NCAA tournament time and that means its time to fill out about 5 brackets. Most of my brackets are usually ripped apart by the second round, but it’s still exciting to mark your brackets right and wrong. I still remember staring at the TV in shock as Hampton upset my final four Iowa State Cyclones with Jamaal Tinsley in the 2001 Tournament. Everyone else was cheering about the 15-2 upset, but I was banging my head up against a wall. Anyway, I still always pick SEC teams. In 1996, I picked Kentucky to go all the way, and ended up winning my pool. As a result, I keep thinking it will happen again.
At risk of dropping a “thud” on this exciting bracket enterprise, I pose a question? Is gambling inherently wrong? Now, of course, millions of dollars (2.5 billion in 1995) change hands during the NCAA tournament, and I’ve participated many times. But an article I read in World magazine
and the upcoming tournament has prompted me to think again about the notion of gambling. Is there really such a thing as just “innocent, fun filled” gambling? I’m going to say no…and here are the 4 reasons.
1) Stealing – at risk of sounding like a crazy Pharisee, I believe gambling is a violation of the eighth commandment. All of God’s commands have both a negative and a positive side. For example, we are not only to abstain from taking life, but also to promote and help prosper life. The eighth commandment is no different. We are instructed not to steal, but also conversely commanded to “further the outward estate of ourselves and others” (Westminster Larger Catechism)
I think it’s safe to say that gambling is in contradiction with the positive side of the eighth commandment. When we gamble, we are in no way lovingly helping and furthering the wealth, life, and estate of our neighbor. Gambling is utterly selfish. It seeks to take money from an individual without providing a service beneficial to others. When one gambles, he is NOT Looking “not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” (Phil. 2:4).
The Larger Catechism understands that true obedience to the eighth commandments means that money out of one’s pocket must go towards a product or service that is furthering the estate of others. For example, I pay a doctor who then gives me a product that increases my estate of health…hopefully. How is gambling different than the stock market you ask? The stock market is investment. It is investing in companies that will then in turn produce a product or service that “furthers the wealth and estate of others.” Of course, investing in companies that do NOT do this would also be a violation, but that is a different discussion.
2) Another reasoning we use to justify gambling is cloaking it with an “entertainment” label. (Trust me, I’ve used this.) If I walk into a casino and spend $30 for 4 hours of entertainment, what’s the difference between that and a night at the movies? Movie ticke
ts do seem like they will reach the $30 mark soon, but that is beside the point.
The rational doesn’t work, though I’ve convinced myself many times it does. First of all, labeling something differently still doesn’t cover up what the act is at its core (see reason #1). Sure, one could argue that a strip club is entertainment, but it doesn’t make the act right.
Secondly, I don’t buy the notion that people simply gamble for the sport of it. My sinful heart certainly never has. As 19th century theologian R.L. Dabney states “why, then do they not play for the sport without bets?” If gambling was solely an entertaining sport, then people would be just as content to gamble with our without money. Money always makes things more interesting. It’s not the sport of gambling in and of itself that is so attractive, it’s the idea that we could further our estate so easily.
3) The industry of gambling itself, though not coinciding with the typical public opinion, is reverse Kingdom in its results. The Kingdom of God comes and renews individuals, families, communities, and cities holistically. The Kingdom of God renews all of these areas socially, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and yes, even economically. Though the gambling industry continually promises “economic development” research shows it actually does the opposite. Though I have an esteemed business degree from the Harvard of the South (Ole Miss), I will still reference higher authorities than myself in the world of economics. As Robert Goodman states in his book The Luck Business, “By turning to gambling expansion for economic development, governments are creating a legacy that will make long-term solutions even harder to realize. As new gambling ventures drain potential investment capital for other businesses, as existing businesses lose more of their consumer dollars to gambling ventures, more businesses are being pushed closer to decline and failure, more workers are being laid off, and enormous public and private costs are incurred to deal with a growing sector of the population afflicted with serious gambling problems… do we really want our governments so dependent on gambling that they are forced actively to promote an activity that takes disproportionately from those who can afford it least, does great damage to existing economies, and can be highly addictive?”
We could say then that gambling is indeed, Anti-Kingdom in nature.
4) It’s the reverse of the Gospel. The essence of reality for a Christian is that “for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was ridch, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (II Cor 8:9). Not only was he poor when he came to earth, but God became man, walked this earth, died in our place on the cross so that we, by faith, might receive an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading (I Peter 1:4). All gambling is the reverse of II Cor 8. Gambling says our neighbor will become poor for our sake.
All of God’s commandments force us to see just how sinful we are. Yes, the eighth commandment does the same. We are all guilty, but it forces us to run to the cross and grab onto the righteousness of Christ by faith. When Christ’s righteousness is ours, we have his perfect obedience…and we are accepted as the one who kept all the commandments perfects (point 4).
Hope this blog hasn’t put a damper on anything, it’s just been churning in my mind (open for discussion). Is this blog nit-picky? I hope you don't feel that way. I came across some of these principles and they were helpful. Fill out those brackets indeed. I’ve already signed up for my Belly of the Beast pool! And let’s hope we don’t have another Iowa State Debacle this year that ruins my bracket. Which SEC teams am I going to have in the Final Four this year? Florida of course, and we’ll just have to see if the Rebels get in the tournament. I love March Madness! Is there a better time of sports than the first weekend of the Big Dance?