The Games People Play

When I lived in Texas I would occasionally buy a lottery ticket. Thankfully, here in Nevada we do not have a state lottery so I am never tempted to do this anymore. People used to wonder why I would buy only one ticket since I could greatly increase my chances by buying a large number of tickets. I recognized, however, that the chances of me ever winning the lottery were so slim that even if I bought a thousand tickets it would require divine intervention for me to have any reasonable chance of winning. So, if God wants me to win, how many tickets do you think I am going to have to buy? This is why I have never been able to understand why people of faith would ever have a problem with gambling. For believers, pathological gambling is really a faith problem and not a gambling problem. You should not have to throw away your life’s savings on the lottery or in a casino before you realize that God is not going to intervene on your behalf!

At the time, however, I felt it was worth the measly price of a lottery ticket so that I could have the pleasure of dreaming about what I would do with all of that money. I used to do the same thing when I would gamble the price of a postage stamp for my chance to enter the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. It allowed me the pleasure of dreaming a little and this is why many enjoy some forms of gambling. I remember once seeing a news story about a woman who had become very successful in her business. The reporter asked her about how her new found wealth had changed her life, and she said, “Well, I never send in those sweepstakes entries anymore!” Wealthy people who are satisfied with their financial success never gamble because of some financial dream, but dreams are not the only reason people gamble; for example, some people enjoy taking risks while others just like to play games.

Although the state of Nevada does not have a lottery, we do have what is called the Mega Bucks Jackpot. This is where all the casinos link together with certain slot machines in each casino and offer a huge jackpot for the lucky winner. One day after I finished eating at a casino buffet, I noticed the Mega Bucks Jackpot was close to $20 million. Now, I never waste my time playing if the jackpot is only $7 or $8 million, but $20 million really gets my attention!

Following my belief in the necessity of divine intervention, I said to my wife, “I think I will play once.” So, I put in the required $3 and hit the button and…I won! No, I did not win the Mega Bucks Jackpot, but only a lesser prize of $50. The Mega Bucks slots are enticing because they will let you win small amounts on your way to the big jackpot. Well, I am not really interested in small amounts because I am after the big money, so I decided to play again, especially since I could play from my winnings and not from my own money. After two more unsuccessful plays, I won again…not the jackpot but another $50. I thought to myself, “Man, I am on a roll, I have nearly a $100 in winnings so far!” So, I decided to play again in pursuit of the big jackpot, but then I began to think, “I have just violated my own rule about gambling and I have been deceived by the excitement of a couple of small wins.” For me to win the Mega Bucks Jackpot will require divine intervention and I do not believe God needs me to increase the odds by continuing to play. So, I took my small winnings and went home.

One of the worst things that can happen to you in a casino is to win, and the more you win the more you are attracted to gambling. The thrill of winning several hundred or several thousand dollars is very exciting and it gives many people a rush more powerful than drugs. The casino executives know this, so they program their slot machines to let you win. Many slots have a 90% payout; that is, on average, for every $100 you play you will win $90, but constantly exchanging $100 for $90 will make the casino rich and you poor. So, how are most people able to gamble without having problems? They decide how much money they are going to throw away at a slot machine before they ever enter the casino, and when that is gone, they walk away.

Sitting for hours in front of a slot machine and gambling several thousand dollars is not appealing to me, but it really provides pleasure for some people. This is brought to my attention every Tuesday in Las Vegas as I go down to one of the local casinos for our weekly church breakfast. To get to the buffet, you have to walk through the gaming area, and every week, at about 7:30 AM in the morning, there are hundreds of people sitting around the casino playing the slot machines. Why are these people there at this time of the day? I can understand gambling at night, or on the weekend, but who would want to gamble early in the morning on a weekday? I often want to survey the gamblers and see just what it is that causes them to be there at that time of the day. Because the casino where we have breakfast is off the strip, many of the people are probably local residents who just enjoy gambling at that time of the day. Others may be from out of town but they prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of the strip. Perhaps they have saved all year just to spend a few days gambling in Las Vegas.

Casinos in Las Vegas do not have locks on their doors and they stay open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, which suggests that there are many people who enjoy gambling at all times of the day or night. Just because I cannot appreciate the pleasure this brings some people does not mean that I have the right to judge them for what they enjoy doing. From a biblical standpoint, I am not willing to argue that wasting $3,000 on a gambling trip to Las Vegas is evil while wasting $3,000 on a hunting trip to Colorado is good. If wasting money is a sin then all Christians need to stop taking vacations and going out to eat. Devoting a portion of your budget to recreation is not a sin, and the key to almost any activity is common sense, moderation, and self-control.

Why is it that some people allow themselves to be destroyed because of gambling? This result is not unique to gambling, and the same question can be asked about a number of other self-destructive behaviors. With regards to gambling, however, a key mental distortion is the failure to take in account the reality of the odds against winning (Ladouceur, Sylvain, and Doucet, 1998).

To illustrate, Ciarrocchi (2002) gives a helpful example of odds that should give most people a reality check on the chances of winning big. For example, the odds of being murdered in the next year are 1 in 11,000. I did not know the odds of being murdered were that high, and I am sure the odds are greater in certain parts of the country than in others, but even at 1 in 11,000 it is very unlikely that you will be murdered in the coming year. Some of you who are reading this may have known a friend or relative who was murdered, but I have never known or even met someone who was later murdered. People die every year after they have been struck by lightning, but the odds of you dying this year from a lightning strike are only 1 in 750,000. Imagine 750,000 people, which is the size of a major city in the United States, and the odds of being the one who is struck by lightning. The odds are so small that most would not even worry about it. In contrast, the odds of winning the Powerball Jackpot are 1 in 80,000,000!

J B Myers

jbmyers1@gmail.com

Books:

Faith and Addiction

Elders and Deacons

Life Choices 

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