Decades ago, an editorial in the Baptist Messenger called Oklahoma a “hot spot” for gambling because our state, at that time, had more than 20 casinos. Fast forward to today, according to the latest numbers, Oklahoma now has more than 100 casinos and is undeniably a “hot spot” for gambling.

With casinos booming, it’s worth stopping to ask the question, “Why do people gamble in the first place?” A recent article talked about the psychology behind gambling.

While the immediate reason is obvious—people want to get more money quickly and easily—the article gave other reasons, including people’s desire to escape, to do something they view as glamorous or just for social interaction.

Some of the longings that casino gambling promises to fulfill are actually heart longings that can only be fulfilled in life with Jesus Christ and in His Church.

Think about it. TV commercials depict people at casinos having a blast, but the more accurate depiction may be that of a chain-smoking, lonely person pumping money into a slot machine for hours on end.

According to Joe Carter of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, “Casino gambling was once a largely upper-class activity. Today, low-income workers, retirees, minorities and the disabled include disproportionately large shares of regional casino patrons.”

Carter also said, “The poorer the neighborhood, the higher the risk for problem gambling,” and that “casinos are also targeting older Americans. One third of the U.S. population visited a casino in 2012 and more than half were 50 years or older. Casinos often prey on older customers by catering to their special needs… This manufactured ‘kindness’ is especially appealing to people who are lonely and isolated from the larger community.”

Moreover, “Researcher Amy Ziettlow (said) gambling addiction experts and researchers have found that the very situations seniors encounter as they age, such as loneliness, the death of a spouse, loss of mobility and loss of employment, make escaping into the ‘machine zone’ of the slots an attractive form of relief.”

Therefore, if we were to read people’s faces at casinos, you might not necessarily see sheer greed but mere loneliness. To see people look for a cure for their loneliness through casinos should provide a wake-up call for the Church.

We know that, even those who do get social interaction at casinos, it would not be the kind of lasting, deep community that you find in the Body of Christ. The empty entertainment people find at casinos has no telos, or end purpose. In church life, though, we discover that life is primarily designed for service in God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:45), through which we find ultimate fulfillment.

That is why Christians should not stand with our arms folded, with judgmental looks toward those flocking to casinos these days. Instead, we should recognize that Christ calls us to minister and connect with these people who are often poor, elderly or simply lonely.

We want to point people to a better way than their local casino. That is the Way of abundant life found in Jesus Christ (John 10:10). And that’s the Way that always pays off in the end.