Casinos, Gambling and Love

As I was walking out of the Church narthex last Sunday, I noticed on the little table where we offer free pamphlets and brochures about our Orthodox Christian Faith, some small cards advertising a “FOXWOODS BUS TRIP.” I couldn’t believe that someone actually placed some advertisement for a trip to the casinos in our Church! Now I don’t know if someone did this as a joke, because they know how I feel about gambling, or if they sincerely wanted to generate business for an upcoming casino trip, but whatever the reason, this little card gives me a great opportunity to once again talk about casinos and the growing gambling culture of our society. In fact, even though our politicians in Massachusetts have given the OK for casinos in our State, and just recently Leominster has approved the possibly of building a Slots Parlor in their town, there is still a movement in the State to try and place the gambling question on the ballot next year. We will even have Kenneth Peterson looking for signatures to support this anti-gambling petition at a table during the coffee fellowship. So it is appropriate for us to reflect once again on the Christian perspective on casinos and gambling.

In some ways, the contrast couldn’t be sharper to see on the Narthex table one card that said “Enjoy a night out at the casinos” and the brochures right next to it which invite everyone to, “Encounter Christ in His Church.” Casinos or Christ? They truly represent two radically different worldviews. Gambling vs. Security? Losing Money vs. Finding Eternal Riches? Taking advantage of others, especially the poor vs. Helping others, especially those in greatest need? Fantasy dreams of jackpots vs. ultimate reality of loving service. Casinos vs. Christ. The contrast couldn’t be greater!

So much about casinos are about deceptive hopes and outright lies. From the deceptive beginning when our politicians say “we need money and bringing casinos to our state is a simple way to ensure millions of dollars in revenue” to the voices of greed and easy money which drown out any moral voice of conscience. It appears irrelevant that easy availability and access to casinos will only lead more and more people to destroy their lives – spending money which they don’t have, creating havoc and destroying families, and burdening the social structure of our society with increased crime, prostitution, and violence. Susan Mendenhall, the former Mayor of Ledyard, CT, home to Foxwoods, noted, “Drugs, guns, and prostitution. It just follows the money [of casinos] but people don’t want to talk about it.  Our sleepy little town did not have this kind of problem before, but it’s everywhere now.  It’s been so painful for us.”

And what about the jobs that casinos will offer! The construction jobs are temporary. The high paying jobs are taken by those within the company. But those “lucky workers” about to secure permanent employment, such as becoming a card dealer, will discover that they will earn just under $16,000/year, an income that would qualify them for welfare.

Few people talk about how “Casino cities” suck the life out of the public square. In Atlantic City, one-third of the city’s retail businesses and two  thirds of independent restaurants closed within just four years of the casino’s arrival. (http://uss-mass.org/local_businesses.html) As Wesley Johnson, the current Ledyard, Connecticut Mayor, says, “There has been no economic development spin-off from the casino.  Businesses do not come here.  Tourists come mainly to gamble.  Gamblers have one thing in mind: get to the casino, win or lose their money, get in their cars, and go home.”

Within five years of introducing casino gambling into communities, robbery typically goes up over 100 percent; auto theft goes up more than 75 percent; aggravated assault go up 90 percent; rape up 20 percent.  These same communities also experience dramatic per capita increases in prostitution, drunk driving, embezzlement, family breakdown, domestic violence, bankruptcy and suicide – all in the midst of enhanced police protection. (http://uss-mass.org/crime.html)

Well, politicians can say one thing, and many common citizens can try to defend the entertainment value that their visits to the casinos offer to an otherwise mundane life. The Church, however, and any sincere Christian who strives to live under the reign of God, should cultivate a worldview influenced by the Gospel.

Last week, we heard Jesus offer the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you want to them to do until you.” Treat others as you want to be treated. Ultimately, our entire Christian message can be summed up in the words, “Love one another as God loves you.” Love should be the motivating factor for each and every Christian. Yet, what does love have to do with gambling? Although we may not have many clear teaching in the Bible about casinos and gambling, we find very clear reference to divine love as the motivation for everything we do, divine love which expresses a sincere concern for our neighbor.

To love God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength, and then to share this divine love with our neighbor is the essence of our faith. Our identity badge as Christians should be our love for others! What does this love that Christ exemplified on the Cross, this love that we see victorious in the Resurrection, this love that Christ instilled in His followers and commanded us to witness and share with the world around them, what does this love have to do with gambling and casinos and other forms of “gaming entertainment?”

Too many preachers in the past have condemned gambling in a moralistic way, condemning greed and easy money. Our Christian emphasis, however, shouldn’t focus on condemnations, but on the Good News of God’s love. Jesus fills our hearts with His love, and then gives us the responsibility to act as ambassadors in sharing His love with the world around us.

The entire gambling mentality – from casinos and we could even throw in lotteries – represents the exact opposite of love. In gambling, one wins at the expense of others. The bigger we win, the more others lose! Christ teaches us to love the other, even to the point of dying for the other! In contrast, our passion for exciting gambling entertainment, which feeds off our desire to win, leads us to ignore the fact that we are winning at the expense of others! The thrill of gambling blinds us to our neighbor. When we want to hit the jackpot, we don’t think of our neighbor. We’re not interested in hearing statistics about how those addicted to gambling, whose lives are in shambles, spend a disproportionate amount of money at the casinos. We don’t want to accept the fact that the poor, uneducated and lower classes buy the greatest percentage of lottery tickets. All we dream about is winning – at whatever and whoever’s expense!

Imagine, for me to win the $400,000,000 lottery, how many people have to lose? Or if we approve of building three casinos in Massachusetts, some which may cost more than ONE BILLION DOLLARS, what concern can we say we have for our neighbor? How many people must lose for the casino industry to build such luxurious complexes? And even if we don’t have a gambling addiction, and we justify supporting such institutions because of the entertainment value, as Christians we need to pause and ask ourselves if we are acting as loving brothers and sisters to those around us by making gambling so socially acceptable and accessible, by making it seem so attractive and harmless?

Casinos, lotteries and other gambling entertainment have nothing to do with love for the other, but everything to do with our egocentric passions. We justify such gambling by saying it’s just fun entertainment. Some even say, “It’s MY way of passing MY time.” The focus, you see, is on ourselves, not on the other. We want to gain, not through hard work, not through offering a service to people, but through the loss of the other! We want to be entertained without thinking of the other.

Of course, in the end we all are free to form our own opinion about casinos and gambling. Yet as Orthodox Christians, I challenge us all to allow the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ to influence our worldview. Love for God and love for our neighbor has absolutely nothing to do with casinos and gambling! May we all strive to grow in divine love, and allow such love to direct us whenever we think about casinos and gambling.

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