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Video Gambling a Bad Bet for Families

In all its forms—the Internet, video lottery terminals (VLTs), video games, poker machines, etc.—video gambling is an unchained tempest, the crack cocaine of the gambling world. Before you know it, young people are playing virtual games and losing real money. It's surreal … at least until the family's VISA bill arrives.

How widespread is teen gambling? The National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates that 7.9 million adolescents are either problem or pathological gamblers. That's equivalent to filling San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium 113 times over with teenagers.

Diane Berlin of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling tells the sad story of "Brian," a young man just out of high school. Early in life, he began betting on sports. At age 20, he was working at a bank, while sport wagers continued to consume his life. The day he was incarcerated, the court discovered that Brian had embezzled more than $250,000 to feed his Internet gambling problem. It's just one of many tragic anecdotes I've encountered in my research.

Promising an immediate escape, video gambling is fast, exciting and addictive. The state of South Carolina was concerned enough that it removed 36,000 video poker machines from various establishments because so many citizens were becoming hooked. According to reports, every week about 2 million players ante up at more than 1,800 virtual casinos, making Internet gaming one of the Web's fastest-growing applications. In 2002, Internet betters lost an estimated $3.5 billion.

For some teens, these statistics will be all the incentive they need to steer clear. But others will want a biblical rationale. Does the Bible condemn gambling? Not in so many words. Of course, you won't find "cocaine" or "Internet porn" in your concordance either, but the Bible tells us that we can distinguish a tree by its fruit (Matt. 7:16-20), and it says plenty about the destructive fruit of gambling (for more, visit http://www.citizenlink.org/FOSI/gambling/abp/).

A wise mentor once told me something worth passing on to teens. He said to view life as a bicycle wheel. God is in the center (hub), and each spoke represents an extension of God into your life (the outer rim). My spokes, for example, include marriage, family, friends, work, health and recreation. God is connected to each spoke, and He helps keep my life balanced. God made these spokes and He desires to tune and strengthen them.

However, if I were to make gambling the hub of my life, it would destroy the "marriage" spoke by wasting our money and letting gambling become my mistress. It would shorten the "family" spoke, since addicted gamblers frequently become abusive. The "friend" spoke would shrink as I attempt to keep my problem hidden. My "work" spoke would be weakened and, like Brian, I might be tempted to steal to support my habit. As for "faith," I could never grow and minister effectively amid compromise and a lack of integrity. "Recreation" would be consumed by my gambling addiction. And my "health" spoke would decline since depression, anxiety and guilt are a gambler's constant companions.

Teens need to realize that gambling is like drinking salt water. You keep coming back for more, but your thirst is never satisfied. Only God satisfies. Gambling takes; God gives. Gambling destroys; God builds. Gambling enslaves; God liberates. The consequences of gambling are a bitter fruit we're all better off without.

Published April 2003


Plugged In Plus
Although Internet gambling technically has been made illegal in the United States, many people still find ways to wager online. An eye-opening 2009 study titled Blackjack in the Kitchen: Understanding Online Versus Casino Gambling stated that Internet gamblers bet even more frequently and aggressively than those in casinos. Researcher June Cotte observed, "When not seen as [an activity] reserved solely for an outing or special occasion, gambling is more likely to become a pernicious, insidiously integrated component of a consumer's life."