Lotteries and Sweepstakes—Are They Harmless?
THE brochure proclaimed: “Million Dollar Adventure.” On a glossy background of spaceships and planets, it urged: “Let the ‘Force’ be with you as you enjoy the greatest adventure on planet earth!” Sound exciting? This was a promotion for a multimillion-dollar lottery to aid Catholic parochial schools.
The prizes were tempting: millions of dollars in cash, several cars, a Florida condominium, an airplane and a European vacation. And the losers? At least they had the comfort of knowing that their money was advancing the cause of education. What harm could there be in the arrangement?
Well, at least one problem arose. A teenage boy came home from school and told his mother that he was expected to sell $280 worth of tickets. A newspaper reported that his mother, Valerie, would not let him. Why? Because Valerie devoted a lot of her free time to helping compulsive gamblers, persons who are as addicted to gambling as a heavy drinker can be to alcohol. She knew the dangers of the gambling lure, especially for a teenage boy, and did not want her son involved.
What would you have done in her situation? Was she being narrow-minded? Is gambling a legitimate form of entertainment, a handy way to raise funds? Or are there dangers?
Authorities Are Cautious
Gambling has been around for a long time—at least since the days of the ancient Egyptians. Interestingly, though, authorities have usually treated it with caution. In the Middle Ages, churches opposed it because it was associated with heavy drinking and bad language. The state opposed it because they thought it led to idleness, lack of thrift, cheating and crime.
Were they right? It is noteworthy that gambling is still associated with bad practices. For example, the magazine U.S. News & World Report tells us that Las Vegas, Nevada, the ‘gambling capital’ of America, had that nation’s highest per capita crime rate in 1979. It added: “There are 10,000 prostitutes active in the city—a number equal . . . to 1 out of every 9 women in the area between the ages of 15 and 39. The state has the highest alcoholism rate in the country and a suicide rate more than double the national average.”
Commenting on the link between prostitution and gambling, a casino manager explained: “It all goes together, like tonic with gin, like sauce on spaghetti.” So perhaps those early authorities were right when they were dubious about gambling.
It is also noteworthy that in most European countries that have casinos the local populace is forbidden to gamble there. Why? In giving one of the reasons, the Encyclopædia Britannica says the authorities feel that an accessible casino close by would be too much of a temptation for too many citizens.
Are such fears well grounded? Evidently, yes. A surprising number of people show lack of self-control in gambling. British police authorities, speaking of the increase in the number of gambling halls in their country, said: “There is no doubt that much family hardship results from habitual attendance at these places, very often by persons with low means.”
The excitement of gambling can lead to real addiction. There is an organization called Gamblers Anonymous that gives the same kind of help to addicted gamblers that Alcoholics Anonymous gives to alcoholics. And they need help. One woman, who in the past had been addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, as well as to gambling, reported that it was much easier to overcome alcoholism and tobacco addiction than to control her impulse to gamble.
What About “Small-Time” Gambling?
Perhaps a person will say: ‘But I am not a big gambler. I just buy a sweepstakes ticket sometimes, or perhaps put a little money on my favorite football team. I don’t have a problem.’ Often, though, problems grow from precisely such beginnings.
A seventy-year-old man appeared in a Canadian court charged with forging lottery tickets. It was learned that he had spent his whole life’s savings—$22,000—on lottery tickets. Why did he do it? He said: “When you start buying tickets, you figure you’re going to win. Those lovely ads spur you on.”
Of course, not everybody who buys lottery or sweepstakes tickets becomes addicted. But all are responding to “those lovely ads,” such as in the church lottery mentioned earlier. What does this betray?
Canadian psychologist Jerry Cooper says: “What the lotteries are saying is ‘become a millionaire . . . it’s the only way.’ They are advertising against the work ethic.” Australian psychologist Charles Kenna agrees. He said: “I have always seen gambling as a denial of reality where people take flight into wishful thinking. They think they will get money so much more readily by gambling than by working.”
Yes, these two psychologists—and the many others who agree with them—feel that gambling betrays wishful thinking, a love of money and a lazy attitude.
How Do You View It?
Hence, was Valerie being narrow-minded in not letting her son sell lottery tickets? Doubtless, many other parents, if aware of the facts, would have made the same decision. Lotteries, raffles, sweepstakes, and any other small-time betting, bring a person to the fringes of a dangerous world, the world of gambling. Gambling does nothing good for a person. But it can do harm. It often brings on an unhealthy excitement leading to overindulgence and addiction. It is, at least sometimes, linked with immorality and crime. And it always appeals to basic human weaknesses.
But you may ask: ‘What if the gambling is for a good cause?’ For example, suppose a school needs some new facility and they organize a raffle to raise the money for it. People who object to gambling have sometimes made a direct contribution in such cases, rather than buying raffle or lottery tickets. In this way their objection to gambling does not prevent them from helping out, if they want to.
True Christians especially are wary of gambling. They know that greed, laziness, lack of self-control, immorality and crime are displeasing to God and dangerous to them. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10; Proverbs 6:6-11; 2 Timothy 3:2, 3, 5; Ephesians 5:3) They recognize that in this world there are already too many temptations to do wrong. It is not wise for them voluntarily to add to those by exposing themselves to a harmful practice such as gambling.