What are you really gambling on?

Australians ‘Stop’ each year on the first Tuesday in November at around 3:00pm AEDST to watch the Melbourne Cup horse race. Workers are given time off to gather in front of the television. Students, if still in school, pause to do the same. In some parts of the country the entire day is a public holiday. All, so we, in unison, can watch the outcome of this race.

The beauty of the horses racing is a vivid testimony to strength, endurance, discipline and precision (on the part of the breeders, trainers and jockeys). I have attended corporate banquets put on in celebration of the race, others will spend a small fortune to don formal wear and play the ‘toff’ for a day at the racetrack. It is in many respects as much a public institution as some of the national religious and public holidays. Throughout workplaces and schools, sweeps are run, where, usually, by way of random allocation, entrants are given a horse for a small fee of maybe $2-$5. If your employer is particularly fortunate with their winnings, it is not unusual to be given the rest of the day off… to celebrate!

Sadly, or amusingly, if you’re so inclined, the condition of patrons at the race courses throughout the country later in the afternoon, differs considerably from earlier in the morning. What was at 11:00am, a beautifully adorned lady in a formal dress with accompanying hat or fascinator assembly, is at 5:00pm, a disheveled, crumpled, stained, torn, staggering embarrassment frequently accompanied by an equally uncouth, stupefied, lecherous lout. This, from either over indulging whilst celebrating their win or while commiserating their loss. Considerable stakes are paid in what is, usually, friendly one-up-man-ship, with punters trying to out-do each other in their betting on the horse racing. Hopes, quite literally, are “dashed” when another horse crosses the finish line ahead of the one they had ‘invested’ in. The Sydney Morning Herald estimated that the takings from punters in 2009 exceeded $143 million in Victoria and New South Wales. The only clear winners are the State Government departments that profit from gaming and gambling. Everyone else comes out worse off.

The premise of gambling is trying to get something large for a disproportionately small price. The idea is that you make a bet, and not have to work to earn the same amount. What might take several days, weeks or months to otherwise earn or cultivate, can be gained in a matter of seconds, simply by placing a well timed bet on the right horse (in the case of the Melbourne Cup). It doesn’t take much to argue yourself from there into the place that by increasing the bet, you could increase your winnings, and if you win enough, you might never have to work again. Obviously, not everyone is consumed with, or tempted by, an addiction to gambling. However, for those that are, even a sweepstake entry can prove to be a deadly distraction. In wisdom, we must be careful how we represent and take part in the good fun of our nation’s (arguably) favourite past-time. If, by entering a sweep, you communicate that your sustenance and hope for provision is elsewhere than in what God has provided, you may find it difficult to convincingly discuss your faith in Jesus and why he is exclusively sufficient for spiritual salvation.

What would you truly prefer? That God dealt with us randomly by way of spinning a wheel, drawing lots? That He let the roll of a dice determine our eternal fate? Or that God has deliberately set his love upon us and reveals his grace to us via Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection? Gambling is emotionally charged controversy that provokes passionate advocates both for abolition and enjoyment in moderation. I hope you consider carefully how you will “profit” from a little flutter compared to finding your passion in Christ.

Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Psalm 119:116 NIV

Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. Psalm 119:24 NIV

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This post is a re-post from Nov 4 2009 and was part of a series on Psalm 119.

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