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 money away? Does the cultural acceptance of gambling lead to more problems than we realize?

The opportunity to gamble is everywhere- cards, lottery tickets, apps, video games and sports betting. In fact, when sports began to reemerge during the latter part of the pandemic, I noticed more gambling ads for sports betting. The lure of fast money coupled with pandemic boredom was a perfect combination to gamble.

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 also 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, 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. Increasing the stakes with more money to achieve the excitement of gambling.
  3. Unsuccessfully cutting back, trying to control or stop gambling
  4. Using gambling to escape and avoid life problems.
  5. Gambling continues even though money is lost.
  6. Denying and lying about the extent of the problem to others.
  7. Involving oneself in illegal activities to finance the habit
  8. Relationships, jobs, educational or career opportunities are lost because of gambling.
  9. Asking for money out of desperation

If you or someone you know has these signs, feels distress or 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. 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. Once you surrender, then address the roots of the addiction. Why do you gamble? What purpose does this serve in your life?

Gambling represents a quick fix, but 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, there is one sure thing-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!

Gambling: Entertainment or addiction?