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    “Hey Sam, would you play poker if there was no betting?” “What’s the point?” “Don’t you like the game?” “Yeah, but I want to win.”

    Games of chance have been played for centuries. One game, bingo, is often held in churches. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has been holding horse races since 1937. A relative newcomer is the state lottery. They say lotteries are an extra tax on the poor. Studies show the poor purchase the majority of lottery tickets. The chances of winning a six-figure state lottery are 1 in 13,983,816. That is nearly zero.

    Sports betting is commonplace with fans, but it can be a serious problem when done by coaches. In August 1990, Major League Baseball declared Pete Rose permanently ineligible for the Hall of Fame, due to betting. Recently, University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired for betting on NCAA basketball tournaments and lying to school officials and NCAA investigators.

    A major venue for gambling is casinos. In March 2000, Proposition 1A amended the California constitutional prohibition against “Nevada style” casinos. There are now 10 casinos in the San Diego area. Casinos advertise in TV, radio, newspapers, the Internet, billboards, and free tourist magazines. To help people return, they issue cash backs, matchplays, coupons, slot cards, and food/drink comps. High stakes gamblers, though, are treated very well, with perks that include tickets to shows, complimentary suites, or limousine escorts.

    In 1999, The National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that 86 percent of Americans have gambled at least once during their lives.

    William Bennett, former U.S. Education Secretary and author of The Book of Virtues, in a recent interview with Newsweek, admitted that he lost millions of dollars. “I play fairly high stakes. I adhere to the law. I don’t play the ‘milk money.’ I don’t put my family at risk, and I don’t owe anyone anything,” In a written statement he said, “Nevertheless, I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore, my gambling days are over.”

    Is gambling a problem in this area? Typically, proponents say it brings positive impacts such as economic development, enhanced tax revenues, and the 37,200 workers that are employed by California tribal governments, 90% of whom are non-Indians. Opponents address the devastated families, ruined communities, and increased crime. According to a national survey done by the California Counsel on Problem Gambling, problem gambling affects approximately 4-6% of the total population. That’s about 2 million people in the state of California alone.

    There are four (4) danger signs of problem gambling:

    1. An inability to stop gambling.
    2. A fixation on anything connected with gambling.
    3. Secrecy, lying, or personality changes.
    4. Financial problems.

    Joe Harper, president and general manager of the Del Mar Thoroughbred club says, “Gambling is not addictive to all and not destructive to all that are addicted. The problem gambler is one whose lifestyle has a destructive impact on his family, his job and/or his health. If the time and money he spends at the track are needed for his family and personal life then he has a problem.”

    According to Marcus Brown, D.D., Ph.D., “There are five major dynamics of addiction: Alcohol, drugs, obsessive/compulsive, workaholic, and religious. All addictions are a form of love hunger. In terms of gambling, it is not about the money, it is about the pursuit.” The consensus of the counselors interviewed was that those with addictive personalities can, and will, change addictions.

    Gary Cundiff, MA, MFT, of Family Consultation Services says “There are three primary issues for problem gamblers:

    1. They feel shame, worthlessness, a missing sense of self.
    2. It’s a trigger for adrenalin, which brings the euphoric feeling they want.
    3. They are looking for validation by the big win.”

    He says, “They feel shame (I am wrong) as opposed to guilt (I did wrong). It is the build up, the anticipation of the win, that keeps them gambling. But there is never enough.”

    Is gambling the church’s business? Marcus Brown says, “Yes, because any problem that exists in society, exists in the church. The church needs to warn the congregation.”

    Byron, a gambler interviewed in Las Vegas, said, “It is not the churches business what people do with their money. But if they want to help, they shouldn’t be preachy. It would be good, if they could teach people about risk.”

    The consensus of the pastors interviewed is that it’s not the church’s place to tell people what to do. However, it does become the church’s problem when people are hurt. The church feeds the hungry, clothes and shelters the needy, and counsels those with addictions. Pastor Greg Sidders of Sunridge Community Church said, “Gambling can be as destructive to ones spiritual life, as alcohol can be to the body.”

    There are many avenues for help, even from within some of the gambling establishments. Joe Harper, who heads up the statewide “Responsible Wagering” effort, says, “We do have a chaplain and we also have an organization called the Winner’s Foundation that helps folks with gambling problems, mostly employees.”

    1 Corinthians 6:12 says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Most forms of gambling are legal, however, it is clear that gambling is a problem for some people, and therefore does become a problem for society.

    If you, or someone you care about has a problem with gambling, here are some resources:

    • Overcomers Outreach – for Christian counseling for all addictions: 800-310-3001
    • New Life Clinics – For Christian counseling: 1-800-NEW-LIFE.
    • Gamblers Anonymous International: San Diego Hotline 866-239-2911.
    • The California Council in Problem Gambling: Help line (1-800-GAMBLER)


    Carol Fitzharris is a freelance writer. She lives in Hemet.


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