When you gamble, you roll dice with your livelihood

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “In gambling, the many must lose in order that the few may win.” 

The opportunity for many to lose has increased dramatically over the last two decades. It used to be that if you wanted to gamble, it required a trip to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J. That’s no longer the case.  

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported that during the 1990s, states with legalized gambling increased from just two to 48, excluding only Utah and Hawaii. And now with gambling available via the Internet (though technically illegal in the United States) it’s easier than ever to become ensnared in an activity that can cause real harm to your future. 

Is it wrong to gamble? Here is what the Church says about games of chance: “They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement” (No. 2413). While it’s clear that gambling is not inherently wrong, it does become an enslavement for many. Here are a few statistics to consider that come from Focus on the Family

◗ Within 50 miles of a casino, the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers roughly doubles. 

◗ SMR Research Corporation called gambling “the single fastest-growing driver of bankruptcy.” 

◗ The percentage of pathological gamblers among arrestees was three to five times higher than the general population, and compulsive or pathological gamblers were significantly more likely to have sold drugs than arrestees who fit the other gambling types. 

◗ In the National Gambling Impact Study, the lifetime divorce rates for problem and pathological gamblers were 39.5 percent and 53.5 percent, respectively; the rate among non-gamblers was 18.2 percent.  

Cautionary tale 

It’s clear that compulsive gambling leads to serious personal and financial problems. While most people who gamble don’t fall into the compulsive or pathological categories, it’s important that you know and be honest with yourself when it comes to setting boundaries for gambling. 

It’s one thing to read about statistics, but underneath those facts are real lives. Let me share a true story with you. After getting married to Sue and starting a family, Ed became restless and looked to gambling as a source of excitement. What started as a “once in a while” activity during his lunch break became an addiction that led to lying to his wife, amassing debts of $140,000 on 28 different credit cards and even embezzling from his employer. 

As the pressure of growing debts and a false life increased, they became an overwhelming burden for Ed, who even pondered suicide. Thankfully, he eventually sought help and came clean with both Sue and his employer. However, his actions had consequences. Ed was convicted of embezzlement and spent a brief time in prison. He and Sue had to declare bankruptcy.  

You can imagine how, from Sue’s perspective, it would have been easy to pack her bags and leave, but with God’s grace she remained committed to Ed and their marriage. It’s a testimony to the power of forgiveness and redemption that, over months and years, they overcame Ed’s gambling problems. 

But wouldn’t it have been better had he avoided them in the first place? I encourage you to stay far away from the dangers associated with compulsive gambling and instead seek more wholesome forms of entertainment and recreation. God love you! 

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.