State-sanctioned gambling: A really bad deal!

 iStock / Getty Images/ Seth Love
iStock / Getty Images/ Seth Love

Having a well-earned reputation as a dedicated football fan, (some would say a fanatic), I was shocked and disturbed by the high-profile advertising of legalized gambling that seemed to reach a crescendo during the NFL playoffs this year. When the Mannings (Archie, Peyton, Eli, and Cooper), the closest thing the NFL has to a “royal family,” are appearing in multiple commercials for online legal gambling, you know a sea-change has taken place.

Those of us old enough to remember the “golden boy,” Green Bay’s all-NFL running back Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, all-NFL Detroit Lions tackle, being suspended for the entire 1963 season for betting on league games and consorting with “known hoodlums” and gamblers, find it shocking that the NFL has done such a complete about-face.

Almost since its inception, the NFL was greatly concerned that entanglement with gambling would lead to corruption, game-fixing, and would destroy the credibility of the whole sport the way the Black Sox scandal seriously compromised major league baseball in the wake of the 1919 World Series.

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As late as 2012, NFL lawyers argued in a court case that “the NFL was adamantly opposed to sports gambling because it would ‘negatively impact our long-term relationship with our fans, negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country.” 

Why did such a stunning reversal take place? First, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2018 (Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association) which struck down the federal law banning state authorization of sports betting.

Now, more than 30 states have authorized wagering on sports contests, and several more could do so in the very near future, including the nation’s most populous state, California.

Also, two of the most well-known and powerful NFL team owners, Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), invested early in Draft Kings, and many other NFL franchises have rushed to sign sponsorship deals with various gambling entities (activities that would have gotten them banned by the NFL prior to 2018).

Given the fact that gambling is the fastest-growing addiction in the United States, this is an ominous and destructive development. People can now place bets on athletic contests via their cell phones while in their recliners in their dens at home.

Numerous studies reveal that gambling addiction leads to dramatic increases in divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, job loss, suicide, embezzlement, and theft. Studies also show that the “percentage of people needing to borrow money to pay bills or debts because of gambling has tripled since 2018.” 

Research also shows that sports bettors, “are at least twice as likely to develop problems as the average gambler.” As an excellent op-ed earlier this week in The Christian Post points out, gambling is clearly contrary to a Christian lifestyle.

Gambling generates no new wealth. In order for someone to win, another person has to lose. In reality, gambling is in violation of two of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet,” not to mention the fact that if it becomes an addiction, it violates the commandments against idolatry. And of course, it is the opposite of “loving your neighbor.”

One issue that is often overlooked in such discussions is the fact that state-sponsored gambling perverts and defames God’s purpose for civil government. The Bible tells us in Romans 13 that God ordained the civil magistrate to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do that which is right.

When the government sponsors and encourages gambling for its cut of the take, it reduces the government to the equivalent of a bookmaker, which is a disgraceful misappropriation of God’s divine mandate for government.

Furthermore, studies across the board show that state-sponsored gambling disproportionately impacts the economically less fortunate in our society.  Research at the University of Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions reveals “the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling.”  By a factor of more than two-to-one, problem gambling negatively impacts poorer neighborhoods compared to those in the top 20% economically.

It is clearly counterproductive public policy for a government at any level to sponsor policies and encourage behaviors that disproportionately impact negatively the most economically vulnerable segments of society.

Unfortunately, many in our state governments understand this and still support legal gambling in order to generate tax revenue. Many years ago while I was working for the Governor of Texas, I had several conservative state legislators cynically say to me, “Look, Richard, this is a stupid tax! It keeps taxes lower on everybody else. If people are dumb enough to do this, why stop them?”

Granted, people are responsible for their own actions, but God is not going to bless governments that encourage such destructive behavior in their population.

The gambling tsunami is threatening to engulf us. We have had a 35% increase on legal wagers just on the Sugar Bowl from 2021 to 2022. So far, we have experienced just the harbinger of the first gale winds of the tsunami to come. In New Jersey, which has led the way in sports gambling, "$10.9 billion was gambled in 2021, which amounts to $1200 for every man, woman, and child in the state.”  Imagine when all 50 states have sports betting a click away on cell phones.

It will harm families and it will certainly corrupt football, baseball, and basketball. History shows us that the money becomes so vast that it will eventually lead to corruption of the integrity of the sports involved as well as leading to corrupt government.

The corruption wrought by gambling is insidious and spreads its corrosive tentacles into every part of society. Several years ago, I became aware of a Southern Baptist Church in a Southern state that had established a statewide lottery. The Chairman of the Deacons had bought a lottery ticket and he won the lottery (a substantial sum). He decided to tithe on his lottery winnings to put in new stain-glassed windows in the church sanctuary.

The pastor said, “No, these are ill-gotten gains and the church will not accept the money. Additionally, you as a church leader need to confess your sin for having played the lottery.” Unfortunately, the deacons voted to recommend to the church that they receive the money and the church agreed. The pastor then resigned, and the church purchased the stained-glass windows. Within six months the church had experienced a major decline from which it has never recovered, while their former pastor’s ministry has flourished in an adjoining state.

If we do not change course, we will rue the day that we made this deal with the gambling devil and turned our governments into bookies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I placed one formal wager in my life. In January 1969, I was a senior at Princeton University. I was in a discussion with several of my classmates concerning Super Bowl III that involved the undefeated Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets. The Colts were 17½ point favorites to win. I was a big Jets fan and I was making the case for the Jets winning the Super Bowl. I said, “I think the Jets are going to win!” Immediately, almost all my classmates said, “Land, put your money where your mouth is! We’re placing a bet with a bookie in Trenton.” In a weak moment, I agreed and bet $10 on the Jets to win at 8-to-1 odds and $10 on the Jets to beat the point spread of 17.5 points.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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