Take a drive from Dallas to Oklahoma City on I-35, and one thing becomes readily apparent. Texas is plagued with pornography shops, and Oklahoma is not. Yet before we feel too good about ourselves, stop to think how many casinos and billboards advertising the state lottery we have along the highway in Oklahoma.
In the grand scheme of things, pornography provides a more universal temptation, but gambling also has a corrosive influence on families. The huge surge in organized gambling in Oklahoma over the past 10 years has taken its toll, as well.
Historically in America, gambling was viewed as a recreational activity for the rich, based mainly out of Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J. Today, according to a new report from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, more than 20 states have commercialized casinos.
Oklahoma is one of them, with a reported 70 casinos across the state, and some 120 gambling facilities of all kinds. The huge boom in casino gambling was made possible by the approval of several state questions 10 years ago.
In 2004, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved State Questions 705, 706 and 712, which established a state-run lottery and expanded “gaming” (gambling) available at tribal casinos. Fast forward 10 years, and we have seen a huge boom in the casino business.
Southern Baptists have always viewed gambling as wasteful, addictive and an activity not befitting of Christians. Many churches even observe an Anti-Gambling Sunday each year (set this year for Sept. 21, for which the ERLC offers research and printable bulletin inserts at erlc.com/gambling).
The problems with gambling are too numerous to list. Even if those who take part in gambling can avoid the pitfalls of the lust for money (1 Tim. 6:10) and greed, there is no question that organized, commercial gambling preys on our weakest tendencies toward greed, avarice and envy.
What is more, the ERLC recently points out that while some believe it is only an upper-class activity, the poor and disadvantaged and their children are the most often hurt by gambling. A study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions proved that “the poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling.”
Still worse, casinos often prey upon the elderly and lonely. Showing images of good-looking, youthful people winning easy money in television commercials, the ugly reality looks more like a lonely, desperate, chain-smoking elderly person, wasting hours at a slot machine. What a disservice to the seniors in our state.
While there rightly has been much talk of late about the lottery’s failure to meet the original education funding goals talked about by then-Gov. Brad Henry and others, it is also time to admit that casino gambling has had a corrosive, negative effect on this state, as well.
It is important for us to resist the urge to say, “We told you so!” or become too preachy on this subject. Instead of fulfilling reputations of being “joy kills” who want to stop the fun, we should be proactive and consider promoting alternatives for casino trips, like offering more weekday socials at church and monthly trips for seniors. Southern Baptists know that Christ has come to give us life and abundant life (John 10:10). It is precisely this reason we caution people against gambling.
Perhaps our state will never repeal the lottery or stem the growth of casinos. But our churches stand ready to warn people against this luring activity, to pick them up when they fall, and to protect victims of predatory gambling that include the youngest and oldest in society.
Only when we see gambling for what it really is, can we, as a society, step away from the “gambling table” and its empty promises toward the great banquet of joy, fellowship and life that our Savior has made possible. In the end, Jesus is the only winning bet.