During our recent travels through the western US, my wife and I stayed one night in a town in Nevada. The motel host assured us that the best dinner was to be had in a nearby casino, so we went there and ate a reasonably quiet meal.
But I was stunned to see the number of people present in the casino on a weeknight. Row after row of slot machines in this huge establishment were 30-50% occupied by customers punching buttons and watching for the results. As a statistician, I felt confident that the vast bulk of them must be doomed to ultimate frustration (for the casinos are not charitable concerns!). A sense came over me that huge quantities of life were literally being drained into nothingness. I wondered, did they have nothing better to do with their lives and leisure?
Even in the glitzy, gaming atmosphere (the geniuses of marketing have morphed the word gambling
into the far more innocent sounding word, gaming
), the grim facts were still clearly visible: almost all would lose, and even those who won would continue playing till all their winnings were lost. But they would lose far more than their money. They would lose all the time spent in this fruitless enterprise.
I have long known, of course, that the casinos were very successful businesses, and that could only be from having lots of customers. But the reality struck me with more force than I had anticipated. Not for the first time, I wished for a handful of tracts that I could pass out to these poor, lost souls. But I would not have gotten far with that, I suppose. Wish I'd tried.
I am not going to rail against gambling. I am not even sure that it is terribly wrong, in small doses, though one must ask, where is love of neighbor in this pursuit? As recreation, it seems rather empty, but that could be more a matter of taste than anything else. But the obsession with gambling is a terrible bondage. It consumes precious, irreplaceable life—life that could be spent in joy, living out the Gospel.
It is clear that the people who spend their time and money on gambling are anesthetizing themselves from something. What is it that is causing such pain? Is there some strategy that could be employed to reach out to these people with the Good News that life need not be wasted—that it can be spent in enterprises that have eternal value?