Americans woke this morning to the news of a single winning Powerball ticket sold in Frasier Park, Calif, meaning that someone or some group of people has won a near record $1.73 billion jackpot.
The grand prize, which has been growing for weeks, can be claimed across 30 years of payments or in a lump sum check of $765.6 million – minus the taxes, of course.
The lure of quick riches goes back thousands of years, with gambling dice sourced to Ancient Mesopotamia. When it comes to the modern ability to bet on almost anything, from the length of a national anthem in a Super Bowl to the color of the Gatorade on the sidelines, early civilizations appeared to suffer from a similar fixation or fascination. Records show ancient Chinese civilizations regularly bet on animal fights, among other things.
Once reserved for Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos, gambling venues and ways to bet have exploded in recent years. Following a Supreme Court ruling in 2018, sports betting has swept the country. It’s legal now in more than 30 states – and counting.
Predictably, as the ways and places to gamble have increased, so have the number of people struggling with a gambling addiction, especially the young.
Pamela Brenner-Davis with the Long Island Problem Gambling Resource Center, recently told Vice News:
“We have definitely seen a marked increase in the number of young people calling our helpline identifying a problem with gambling,” she said, tracing the surge to the state’s legalization in January of 2022.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, cases of addictions have increased by almost a third – and they attribute the rise to men between the ages of 18 and 24.
Why young people seem more susceptible to such compulsions is something that can be explained both physiologically and socially. We know young people’s brains are not yet fully developed, meaning they’re more willing and likely to take unwise risks. Also more emotionally uneven, people in this demographic crave excitement and novelty, and the promise of a big payout is often enough for them to recklessly spend what little money they may have.
A few generations ago, the popular writer C.S. Lewis addressed the subject of Christians and gambling in an essay in his book, God in the Dock.
“Gambling ought never to be an important part of a man’s life,” he wrote. “If it is a way in which large sums of money are transferred from person to person without doing any good (e.g., producing employment, goodwill, etc.) then it is a bad thing.”
But then he seemed to deviate from conventional Christian wisdom.
“If it is carried out on a small scale, I am not sure that it is bad. I don’t know much about it, because it is about the only vice to which I have no temptation at all, and I think it is a risk to talk about things which are not in my own make-up, because I don’t understand them. If anyone comes to me asking to play bridge for money, I just say: ‘How much do you hope to win? Take it and go away.’”
Lewis seemed to have no problem with others gambling a little because he had no problem with it himself. Logically and even theologically, that’s a rather weak, reckless and even dangerous rationale given how it could be applied to any number of other vices.
Socially conservative Christians have long opposed gambling, and for several reasons.
Gambling hurts the gambler and the gambler’s family, exploits and preys upon the poor, undermines a Christian work ethic, and even undermines belief in God by refusing to see God as our sole provider.
The Bible may not specifically address gambling or call it a sin, but it regularly warns about the love of money and our problem with greed.
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,” wrote the writer of Proverbs, “but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (13:11).
And to those who suggest gambling is no different than Wall Street, it may be true that both are risky – but one is investing, and the other only wins when someone else loses.
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