My daughter and I were talking about gambling the other night. She told me that most of her young adult guy friends gamble. We agreed, what a waste of money. But is there more to this past time than simply throwing your money away? Is the cultural acceptance of gambling leading to more problems than we realize?

Unlike the old days, you don’t have to have to be 21 to find a casino to gamble. The opportunity to gamble is everywhere- cards, lottery tickets, apps, video games and sports betting. In fact, when sports began to reemerge during the later parts of the pandemic, I noticed more gambling ads for sports betting. The lure of fast money coupled with boredom was a perfect combination to gamble.

And prior to the COVID-19 shut down of schools, “Casino Night” at the local high school was a regular fund raiser. Flyers read, “Bring your family for a night of food and fun and raise money for our school.” But is exposing kids to the real world of gambling a good way to fund raise? Isn’t this just harmless fun?

Walk the halls of most high schools and you’ll find teens gambling before, during and after school. It is estimated that 4-6% of all adolescents are pathological gamblers and even more gamble occasionally. Whether it is playing craps, cards, football pools, sports betting, lottery, dice or pool, it all begins as harmless fun. But what may surprise you is that teens are more susceptible to gambling than adults. This is due to their impulsivity, peer pressure influences, emerging egos, desire to win, lack of understanding the consequences of gambling and feelings of invincibility.

Gambling has gone mainstream in American culture and has desensitized our kids to the problem of addiction and financial ruin that pathological gambling brings. From an early age, kids learn that winning is what counts. During adolescence, that competitive spirit coupled with fragile identity, ego formation and little fear of the consequences of behavior can lead to risk-taking behavior. Gambling represents quick money, a quick fix and a way to be “in” with those who see no harm in such activities. Every “win” reinforces the activity. For those at risk for addiction, “harmless fun” ends in bondage.

Usually those who become addicted are intelligent, risk-takers, perfectionists, impulsive, high energy, good students or possibly involved in using drugs and alcohol. Parents are often unaware of the problem because these teens appear to have their act together. But the signs of a gambling problem are identifiable. They are:

1) Preoccupation with gambling.

2) More money is needed to achieve the excitement of gambling.

3) Efforts to stop, cut back or control gambling are unsuccessful.

4) Gambling is used to escape and avoid life problems.

5) Gambling continues even though money is lost.

6) The extent of the problem is denied and lied about to others.

7) Financing the habit may involve illegal activities.

8) Relationships, jobs, educational or career opportunities are lost because of gambling.

9) Desperation leads to asking for money.

If you or someone you know has these signs, feels distress and can’t control the urge, there is a good chance they have a gambling disorder. This is considered a behavioral addiction and requires an abstinence approach. Get help from a professional mental health provider. Therapy and support from a Gambling Anonymous group (GA) can make all the difference.

Freedom from a gambling addiction requires attention to body, soul and spirit. Ultimately, the spiritual state of someone who gambles must be addressed as “luck” is not a biblical concept. Psalm 37:23 reminds us that chance isn’t a part of the Christian life, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in His way.”Our lives are purposeful, planned and directed by God.

As with any addiction, surrender is what brings freedom. As we surrender to God’s higher purposes and take responsibility for our behavior, He guides and directs our lives.

We addressed the roots of the addiction. Why do we gamble? What function does this play in our lives? There are no quick fixes or short cuts to the refining God wants to do when forming our character and development. When we realize that only the things of God can satisfy the deep yearnings of the heart, we are less inclined to turn to other things that promise success but don’t deliver.

When it comes to gambling, bet on God. There are no losers in God’s family. In other words, life with God is a win-win! And that’s a winning truth!

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