Gambling, Religion, and the Bible

The recent discovery of casino records showing William Bennett's decade-long gambling pattern has many of his admirers cringing and his detractors celebrating. The news reports consistently allude to how his family-values and Christian conservative values conflict with his casino actions these past ten years.

Mr. Bennett's religion is Catholic. With Bingo being available in many Catholic parishes, as well as the idea of gambling not being looked upon too aversely by that religion, Mr. Bennett is not being inconsistent in his religion. Nevertheless, Mr. Bennett's admirers cross the religion divide so much that he probably has more fundamentalists in his camp (such as Southern Baptists) than Catholics. And the fundamentalists are generally opposed to gambling — really opposed.

Mr. Bennett faces a hard decision. He cannot afford to lose his conservative audience and yet he is in real danger of doing so if he has not lost it already. He certainly will pay a price for his gambling far and above any losses he may have sustained in the casinos. As a side note, the casinos are now scrambling to locate the source of the leak; Park Place Entertainment, owners of Bally's and Paris Resorts, were named as one of Bennett's locales. Those establishments and the others Newsweek mentioned, who in the past prided themselves in their players' privacy, now face a monumental public relations scare (second only to Bennett's) when their more secretive players make a decision whether to remain players there or to move to casinos that honor the secrecy they've entrusted in those casinos.

Millions Wagered, Millions Lost, How Much Won?

The article describes how Bennett has lost as much as $8 million in a ten-year period. The amount is certainly shocking to most who cannot imagine such a loss. One must remember, however, that Bennett is a high-income individual whose gross annual income probably rests comfortably in the double-digit millions. Taken in that light, his losses are not relatively very much for the man or his family.

More critical to the amount he lost is how much he won but Newsweek shows little energy in seeking to discover that amount. Absolutely no mention was made of the winnings Bennett received during the decade. He certainly didn't play $8 million over the past ten years without a single win.

Each casino must give a W-2G tax form on all wins over $1,199. In playing more than $8 million through the high-limit machines he played, Bennett would have received a very large number of W-2G tax forms to offset some, all, or more than he lost. And he would have been paid all wins under $1,199 without the tax record being given to him.

Newsweek stated that Bennett enjoys Video Poker. Playing Video Poker perfectly on fair-returning machines nets 99.5% to 102% over time. That means that, over the decade Bennett played, his $8 million wagered would have returned him anywhere from $7.95 million to $8.16 million dollars for the effort. In ten years time, therefore, he falls in the expected range of losing a maximum of $50,000 to winning $160,000. For a man who makes millions each year, these expected dollar returns certainly does seem to support his claim that it was a relaxing hobby he enjoyed 2 or 3 times per year.

Bennett's own words, quoted by Newsweek, were, "Over 10 years, I'd say I've come out pretty close to even." The expected return from Video Poker would suggest that he was telling the truth.

Religious Rights and Wrongs

Whether he won, lost, and to what extent is not an issue to those who disagree with what he did. They do not see the size of the sin as being as important as the sin. The religions that frown on Bennett's actions will be hard-pressed to forgive the man. After all, they had entrusted him to abstain from these things in the first place and he pulled this off for the past 10 years without their knowing. He can ask their forgiveness and he may get it but their trust may not be so fast to return. They will be likely to move on to other authors when they see his books in the racks.

When two Christian religions collide, the religion of the Left enjoys the show very much indeed.

How wrong was Bennett? Should he follow his Catholic religion? Should he follow the fundamentalists who perhaps comprise the majority of his audience?

Personally, I don't care what either religion says. What is important to me is what God says about the matter. He wrote the bestselling book ever published. In it, He addresses money, risk, and financial issues more than a few times.

Casting of Lots

Without a doubt, one of the most-quoted scriptures when the sin of gambling arises is John 19:24:

"They said therefore among themselves, u2018Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,' that the Scripture might be fulfilled…" (NKJV).

Debated by scholars, exactly what is referred to when the Bible mentions "casting of lots" is not conclusively agreed. Nevertheless, the act certainly is related to some kind of game of chance, perhaps the tossing of dice or the drawing of sticks of various lengths. While He died on the Cross the Roman soldiers gambled for His clothing.

Nothing good can be found in the soldiers' actions. They were wrong in what they did.

The question then must be asked, what comprised their sin? The stealing of Christ's clothing was certainly a sin. Did they also sin for gambling? One would think so from the number of people who reference this passage against gambling.

One way to interpret Scripture is to analyze other verses that seem to make similar points. Perhaps other verses on a subject are clearer; if so, then the context of the first verse can be clearer too. Can one find the casting of lots elsewhere in Scripture?

Yes. Acts 1:26 says this:

"And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles." (NKJV)

No Roman soldiers are casting the lots here. As a matter of fact, 11 of the men who walked the earth with Jesus Himself, eleven of His very disciples, are the men casting lots here. Are they casting lots for evil? Quite the opposite, they are casting lots to determine who will become the twelfth disciple to replace Judas! To complete the twelve holy men, the first eleven disciples cast lots and chose Matthias.

What admonition did God swiftly bring to these eleven? None. He seems to approve of the act by allowing its use in His book without comment. These are the twelve who will represent and spread the Gospel to His twelve tribes of Israel. If they had acted wrongly in choosing the twelfth member, He would have been the first to complain. One must conclude that the act of casting lots is not a sin in itself. One can extend that reasoning to support that games of chance are not sinful in and of themselves.

Playing for Money?

It appears that Bill Bennett's family was unharmed financially by his casino experiences. Although the stories omit this, perhaps his wife was along with him when he ventured into them at times. Could she have sat down next to him and waged a bit herself?

The question now becomes, why are games of chance for financial gain considered to be a sin by so many religions?

The expected returns of Video Poker are fixed and not arguable. Even casual players who practice a few hours before a casino trip hold a huge advantage and can expect far more of a return over players of almost all other games in casinos. Given Bennett's salary and financial resources, and given his routinely-expected return from Video Poker, it appears certain that he did not risk his family's future. He says his bills are paid and they have no financial troubles. His wife does not disagree.

If he put gambling ahead of his family's safety and security, Bennett would be in big trouble. If Bennett had risked his family's financial certainty, whether he gambled with that money, invested in the stock market, bought real estate, or simply spent too much on haircuts, Bennett would be showing a love for money over that of his wife and family and his addiction would cause him serious trouble and the consequences should be severe. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8:

"But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

But the amount of his play, while at first seeming to be extraordinarily high to most people, does not compromise his family's finances when held under scrutiny.

Jesus Himself makes it very clear that (unless spending the money to commit a sin) a man can use his own money to do with as he pleases. Matthew 20:15 says clearly:

"Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?…"

If Jesus says that a man can do with his own money what he wants, then why do many Christians today want to trump Jesus' wisdom?

May 10, 2003