Like a surging tidal wave, legalized gambling is flooding the United States leaving many lives and families in ruins. How will churches respond to the growing crisis?
According to the federally commissioned National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC), the gambling industry in the United States has grown tenfold since 1975. Gambling is no longer limited to Las Vegas; today a person can make a legal wager in forty-eight states. Whether it is casino gambling, lotteries, pari-mutuel betting, or bingo — gambling has permeated all corners of the U.S.
“Gambling has moved in, literally, to our very doorsteps,” says Dr. Gregory Jantz, author of Turning the Tables on Gambling.
For Dr. Paul Griffin Jones, pastor and expert on the social effects of gambling, the rapid rise of Internet wagering means that the floodwaters of gambling have not stopped at the front doorstep — they have poured into the very heart of America’s homes.
“Gambling, potentially, is in every home in the nation,” stated Jones. “On the Internet, every person in America from their own home can wager and do it in complete anonymity and isolation.”
Devastated Lives Two million adults in the U.S. are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4?8 million are considered problem gamblers.1 For those addicted to gambling, the results are tragic.
According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report, pathological gamblers and their families can experience a variety of tragic problems:
- Domestic violence ? Divorce
- Child abuse and neglect
- Children engaging in delinquent behaviors
- Severe financial hardships leading to crime, loss of employment, and bankruptcy
- Emotional problems
The fallout from gambling addiction devastates not only the gamblers, but also their spouses and children. The NGISC reports that compulsive gambling “introduces a greatly heightened level of stress and tension into marriages and families.” 2
A domestic violence counselor from Harrison County, Mississippi, testified that a local shelter reported a 300% increase in the number of requests for abuse intervention after the arrival of the casinos.
One wife of a problem gambler declared, “I lived in fear daily due to his agitation and outbursts of violence.”
Not a Problem for Churches? Are Christians and churches exempt from the effects of the gambling tidal wave? A study by the Barna Research Group (www.barna.org) has shattered the common misperception that gambling is not a major issue for Christians and churches.
According to Barna, there are “no differences between the unchurched and the churched” when it comes to gambling activity. While Christians have often been warned about the dangers of gambling, “millions do so on a regular basis.” Astonishingly, 17% of born again Christians have purchased a lottery ticket in the last week.3
Chance to Change: A Church-Based Solution Gambling addiction is largely a spiritual issue, but the church has often simply referred gamblers to secular organizations where no serious discussion of Jesus or the Bible is allowed. As a result, gamblers are placed in a setting in which the true source of freedom is never discussed. What can churches do?
Church Initiative has created a bold, church-based, Christ-centered strategy to empower churches to reach problem gamblers in their communities. This strategy is Chance to Change: Christ-Centered Gambling Recovery.
With this thirteen-week video series, churches do not need to be experts in gambling recovery. The Chance to Change videos feature instruction from forty Christian counselors, pastors, and financial experts, who have specialized in giving Christ-centered help to problem gamblers.
“Chance to Change equips your church to help problem gamblers without having to hire a gambling recovery expert,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The videos also feature the testimonies of thirty former problem gamblers who have found freedom and deliverance through Jesus Christ.
Chance to Change is more than just a “recovery program” it is a “beyond recovery program” in that it shows gamblers not only how to quit gambling, but also how to live the victorious life God intended for them.
According to Land, Chance to Change offers an ideal solution for churches wanting to help problem gamblers. “You may wonder why your church needs to run a Chance to Change program,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of gamblers to experience true healing through a Christ-centered program like Chance to Change.”
Former gamblers are already speaking of the fruits of a Christ-centered gambling recovery program.
“I would tell anyone, ?It works; in fact, God works!'” declared Michael.
“The only hope I ever found was through my church and by having a personal relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ,” said Doug.
The gambling crisis in the United States continues to grow. With Chance to Change, churches can now be fully equipped to help many hurting gamblers with the healing power of Jesus Christ. For more information on Chance to Change, go to www.chancetochange.org or call 1-800-395-5755.
Copyright © MMIII, MMVI by the author and/or CaringChurches.com and The Church Initiative, Inc.
1″How widespread is problem gambling in the U.S.?” National Council on Problem Gambling, http://www.ncpgambling.org 2National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) Final Report, June 18, 1999. 3″Survey Shows Faith Impacts Some Behaviors But Not Others,” The Barna Update, Oct. 22, 2002. Used by permission.