The Gambler’s Fading Goal
November 16th, 1980 @ 7:30 PM
THE GAMBLER’S FADING GOAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-80 7:30 p.m.
It is a gladness for us here in this dear First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on the two radio stations that bear it: on KCBI, the Sonshine station of our Bible Institute, and on KRLD the great station of the Southwest. The title of the sermon tonight is Haman, The Gambler’s Fading Goal. In our long series this fall on the problems of human life, the message tonight is addressed to the subject of gambling—what is wrong with it; practically everybody does it.
Now, will you turn with me to the Book of Esther—Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs—right in there. Turn in your Old Testament to the Book of Esther; and in the Book of Esther turn to chapter 3, chapter 3 of the Book of Esther—Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Now in Esther chapter 3, and let us start reading at verse 5 and read through verse 7, and then we are going to read verse 13. Now, let us all read it out loud, Esther 3, verses 5 through 7:
And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had showed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.
In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.
Now verse 13:
And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s providences, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.
And I can make a little side comment on that text: whenever you see a nation destroying the Jews, such as Nazi Germany, such as through all the pages of history, they’ve been persecuted world without end, you’ll always find that they confiscate their property. That’s what Haman proposed to do; not just to destroy the Jew by killing him, but also to take his property [Esther 3:13]. For the Jew, for the most part, is a prosperous people.
Now what happened, of course, is very familiar to you and to us. This man Haman is a great man. Even though he was a foreigner, he rose to be prime minister of the Persian Empire under Xerxes [Esther 3:1]. His name in the Bible is called Ahasuerus—this is the Xerxes that crossed the Hellespont, seeking to conquer Greece, Hellas. This man Haman, being exalted in the empire, was accustomed to people bowing down in his presence, and, wherever he went in the Persian Empire, people prostrated themselves before him. Especially was that true in Shushan—the palace. They were accustomed to the great and the mighty walking in and out before them—being the capital of the empire. And they were accustomed to bowing down and prostrating themselves before this prime minister, Haman.
Now everybody did that, that is, everybody but Mordecai [Esther 3:2]. This Jew bowed the knee to no one but to God. And when all of the throngs around Haman bowed down before the exalted prime minister, Mordecai stood up, refusing to bow. And they told [Haman] that this man is a Jew and [Haman] hated him [Esther 3:3-5]. Then when he thought to destroy Mordecai—he thought it scornful to lay hands on the man alone—so he conceived the idea of destroying the whole race including little children, mothers, men, young and old; to annihilate the entire race of Judaism [Esther 3:6].
Now, when he did that—a scheme that was oh, so gruesome and so terrible in its offing—when he did that, he turned—as so many of the men of the world do—he turned in superstition to Lady Luck in order to achieve his scheme. That’s the strangest thing about humanity; when men turn to schemes that are worldly and God defying, they turn inevitably to superstitious rites and rituals, and they give themselves to that. I read where there’s not a great newspaper in America that would not print those horoscopes and astrological prognostications. I never read them. I just see them there in the paper. I didn’t know anybody read them until I read where everybody reads them. That’s the strangest thing; when you leave God, the true God, out of your life, don’t ever think that you are going to be an atheist—he’s a speckled bird and you never saw one really—they always turn to some other kind of power, always.
So Haman, this tremendous and able and capable minister, seeking the destruction of the people of Mordecai, sought to do it in a gambler’s world. He had Pur—whatever chance that was—let’s call it dice—let’s call it craps. He had Pur cast before him, starting at the first day of the year, and they were cast before him all year long; every day, every month they cast that dice before him, choosing a propitious day upon which to destroy the Jewish people [Esther 3:7].
Well, as they cast those lots, and they cast that dice, it finally came out the propitious month was the twelfth month, and the propitious day was the thirteenth day [Esther 3:12]. So he sent letters to the provinces of the entire Persian Empire that on the twelfth month, at the end of the year, on the thirteenth day of that month, they were to destroy the entire Jewish race and to take their property for a spoil [Esther 3:13].
Now, that is the gambler’s dream. He is a worshipper before Lady Luck. Always he has that aura about him of using fetishes—rabbit’s foot and stuff like that—and horoscopes and astrological times and all kinds of things in order to make the wheel of fortune bend just in his favor: Haman did that. Now, the title of the sermon is, The Gambler’s Fading Goal. And one of the chamberlains said to the king, “The gallows that Haman built for Mordecai fifty cubits high, let the king hang him thereon” [Esther 7:9]. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai—the gambler’s fading goal [Esther 7:10].
I was astonished because, as I say, I don’t live in that kind of a world. I was astonished to learn that the most terrific of all of the exploding pursuits of the American people is gambling—that two-thirds of the American people are in it—that eighty percent of the American population approves of it. And to my amazement, I never dreamed of anything like this, the biggest business in all of American by far is gambling—bigger than the one hundred biggest corporations of the United States of America. And the profits of gambling—between 10 and 12 billion dollars every year—is greater than all of the one hundred greatest corporations in the United States.
The commission on the review of the national policy toward gambling was created by Congress in the Organized Crime Control Act of 1870. Its purpose was to study gambling as it exists in the United States. For three years, those commission staff members collected, reviewed, and summarized all available materials on gambling. Now, their report to the United States government starts with this sentence. Listen to it, “Gambling is inevitable. No matter what is said or done by advocates or opponents of gambling in all its various forms, it is an activity that is practiced or tacitly endorsed by a substantial majority of Americans.” That’s the way that report begins. Then it continues:
This report and its recommendations will surprise most Americans and may startle some. But those who are surprised and startled should carefully reflect on the significance of the fact that a pastime indulged in by two-thirds of the American people and approved by eighty percent of the population contributes more than any other single enterprise to police corruption in their cities and towns and to the well-being, the prosperity of the nation’s criminals. Much of the propaganda for legalized gambling can be traced to organized and professional gamblers.
That’s the way this commission on the review of a national policy toward gambling begins. It is an amazing and a startling thing, as that commission reports. We don’t realize the tentacles of that awesome spectacle of the reaching out of the underworld gambling enterprise into every aspect of human life. So that’s the sermon, The Gambler’s Fading Goal—where it touches and how it fares.
First of all the state: always the state is looking for some painless way to find revenue for the government. And in these last few years, they have hit upon gambling as a way to finance the necessities of government. In 1963, New Hampshire legalized a state lottery, and after that date—from that date of 1963—there have been forty-four states that have legalized in some form gambling for revenue and taxation purposes.
The movement in that direction is tragic for the American people. A senator said in the United States Senate; he said, “For every dollar that the state collects in gambling, they spend five dollars for higher court costs, higher police protection, higher penitentiary cost, and for welfare participation.” And the chief of police of Los Angeles said, “Any nation that builds its governmental and financial structure upon the weaknesses of the people is bound to face inevitable ruin.”
This is the tragedy that is overwhelming modern America. Not only do we have the state entering the world of gambling; but—if it were confined just to what the state did, it might not be so gruesomely terrible—but when the state enters gambling such as in this last election, the people of Texas by a vast majority approved legalizing bingo. When the state approves gambling, it advertises it. It has to! In order for it to succeed, if it collects any taxes, it has to encourage the people to gamble. It becomes a permeation of the entire social structure, and as such it feeds into the underworld.
A growing body of evidence supports the judgment of the Tax Institute of America, that the growth of government-sponsored gambling is a manifestation of the pervasive current search for taxing without paying. State-sponsored gambling contributes to the erosion of citizen’s confidence in government. As government itself becomes a party to the fleecing, state lotteries are looked upon as a government rip-off of the governed. We are in an era of American life when more and more citizens are disillusioned with government. And this greatly adds to that disillusionment. The social principles of the United Methodist Church has a sentence, and it says, “Gambling is a menace to society; deadly to the best interest of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life and is destructive of good government.” The energy of the whole gambling world contributes nothing to the social order, to the wealth of the people, or the well-being of the populace. Gambling creates no wealth. It takes from those that are the least able to support it and gives to the more affluent—it creates nothing—it contributes nothing—it is a parasite, a vermin upon the life of the people!
Now when you read and when you study—as I’ve been trying to do preparing this message for tonight—often will you come across the word in defense of the gambling enterprise, “Business itself is a gamble.” You’ll come across that sentence so often it becomes second nature to run into it; you expect it: “Business itself is a gamble. Why should you be startled at the gambler’s programming in American citizenry? Business is a gamble?” Just the opposite of that is true. I mean the diametric opposite of that is true! What business does is, in every way possible, it seeks to reduce the risks in its enterprise.
Here is a farmer; and he’s sowing his seed, and plowing and cultivating his crop, and he’s doing everything he can to reduce the risks. He’s fighting bugs and beetles and boll weevils, and he’s fighting the blight and the drought and a thousand other things in order to produce a good crop. He’s doing everything he can to reduce the risks so he can produce on his farm. Here is a builder and he takes labor and materials, and he does everything humanly possible that mind can think of to reduce the risks of his building enterprise. He wants to sell at a profit, and in order to do so; he cannot take risks. He does everything that he can in building to make it successful.
Here is a man in the stock market—and by the way, in my humble judgment, the finest instrument for an ordinary American to save and to accumulate is to do it in the stock market. So they say, “The stock market is a gamble.” My brother, what the stock market does is in every way possible—everyone of those enterprises represented on the New York Stock Exchange is a company—it is a business that is trying to reduce every possible risk so that it can succeed—it wants to succeed. And when you buy a stock on the New York Stock Exchange—or one of the over-the-counter markets, or the American Exchange—you’re buying a little bit of American Telephone and Telegraph. You’re buying a little piece of IBM, or you’re buying a little piece of a bank. And each one of those business enterprises is doing everything possible to reduce the risks and to succeed in its business purpose.
But gambling is the opposite of that; it builds in the risks. If they have a slot machine, they see to it that all of the risks are multiplied in the thing so that the [operator] can succeed; so that he makes money. The whole gambling enterprise builds in the risks, whereas the business world seeks to obviate them and to be delivered from them. There’s no such thing true, as that business is a gamble and they are like business. Folly wide the mark! That’s soft in the head thinking, that’s idiocy!
The gambler’s fading goal; we speak now of the individual: this man, this woman, these people. What is the fading goal of the gambler? Gambling appeals to the basest of all human weaknesses: covetousness, to get something for nothing. It is a violation of the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet” [Exodus 20:17]. And the gambler is seeking to get something for nothing. One of the great principles of the Word of God is espoused by Paul in [Ephesians 4:28], “Let us labor, working with our hands that which is good.” And again in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” With quietness we are to work, and to eat our own bread.” The idea, the very basic assumption of gambling is diametrically opposite to the spirit and the will of God, to get something for nothing, to take from this man and keep it for myself. It is awesome, the spirit that motivates the gambler to take from others without working in order that we might possess.
One of the things that I learned in my study—I never heard of such a thing—the same addiction that you find in alcohol, the same addiction and the identical proportion do you find in gambling. There is a compulsive drinker—and one out of every ten social drinkers becomes an alcoholic, a problem drinker. To my amazement, in my studying, I learned that there is a compulsive gambler—and one out of every ten gamblers becomes a compulsive gambler. And I didn’t know this—you have Alcoholics Anonymous—you also have Gamblers Anonymous, seeking to recover those people that are caught in its terrible tentacles.
The National Council on Compulsive Gambling has defined compulsive gambling this way: “A progressive behavior disorder in which an individual has a psychologically uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble.” This results in excessive gambling; the outcome of which is the loss of time and money. The gambling reaches the point at which it compromises, disrupts, destroys the gambler’s personal life; his family relationships; his vocational pursuits. These problems in turn lead to intensification of the gambler’s behavior. Then it continues—this report of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling: “It is extremely incapacitating and results in a failing to become or maintain financial solvency or to provide basic support for one’s self or the family.” The damaging effect on society is the loss of funds from loaning, banking, and business groups; and from family and acquaintances who provide money which is rarely repaid. Imprisonment is a frequent eventuality for crimes committed to obtain money to continue gambling. Compulsive gambling as an illness is slowly progressive. The usual complications of compulsive gambling behavior are increased welfare activity, irresponsible borrowing, broken families, poor job performance, and crime. This is sad beyond any way you could describe it—the gambler’s fading goal—he never succeeds—only in the destruction of his own personal life and in the destruction of his family.
Now I thought that some of these men whose names I read in the paper—I thought they would be so much in favor of the gamblers supposed paradise. Then I copied this. I cut this out of the paper. Perhaps the best evaluation of gambling comes from one who speaks in experiential and not philosophical terms.
“I’m not a gambler,” says Jimmy the Greek, who sets odds as a sport’s prognosticator for CBS television. “I used to be,” he continues, “but I gave it up years ago. I’m not a book-maker either. I don’t make bets and I don’t take them. Wherever I go, I speak against gambling. There are areas that are talking about legalizing gambling, and I’m against it because it doesn’t make sense. When you put legalized gambling into a community, you ruin the community around it.”
Would you have ever thought that from Jimmy the Greek—gambling. To me, I could not imagine a thing more foolish than gambling! When you look at the horses, the races, when you put them all together, the odds are 70 to 1 against you. When you play bingo, the odds are 200 to 1 against you. And when you play in a lottery, the odds are 200,000 to 1 against you. “You mean I want to do that!? I need a psychiatrist to examine the bumps on my head!” Ah! I can’t conceive of entering into odds like that—risks like that.
Now I look at these people. I have been in Monte Carlo, and I have watched those gamblers there in Monte Carlo, in southern France, on the Riviera. I have watched them in Reno, Nevada, and in Las Vegas. I watched them by the hours there—holding revival meetings, speaking at evangelistic conferences—they never close, twenty-four hours a day—and there they are, you can watch them. I have watched them in the Bahamas. I have watched them in Macao, the Portuguese colony just beyond Hong Kong. I’ve watched them around this world.
Did you know in all of the times, and hours, and places, and nations that I’ve watched them; I’ve never seen one smile yet—not one! That roulette wheel, casting that dice, spinning that big wheel, all of those avenues and gadgets they use with dice and cards, and wheels, and slot machines. Man, I didn’t know it was like that. I’ve seen women operating three of those at the same time—bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang—three of them at the same time! And now, they’re doing it with dollars instead of quarters! I’ve watched them in the middle of the night, in the early morning, in the late evening, in the daytime: not one time have I ever seen one smile—not once. And I look at them in amazement: “Why, man, I have such a wonderful time—such a good time—such a happy time! And I look forward to such glorious times! I love being with you! I love everything down here!” But they—I don’t know what it is—they don’t smile, and they don’t look happy. They look strange and drawn in their purpose of getting something for nothing. It’s like God had withdrawn His favor upon them; that God had taken the joy out of life. It’s as though they were in some part or compartment of hell, and they were sharing the damnation of those that had forgotten how to smile and to be glad—it amazes me!
And now I conclude with us. It would be unthinkable for a devout Christian to enter into a world like that; to share in a compromised life like that. It would smite your heart; it would break your heart; it would make you weep. I don’t want what that man has. And if somebody else tries to get it from him, I will not.
They gambled for the garments of our Lord at the foot of the cross [Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24]—being spiritually insensitive. I couldn’t do that, just looking up there at the face of the Lord and the blood drops falling down [Luke 23:26-46; John 19:16-34]. It is unimaginable to me that I could do that! And I think the Christian who would enter into a life like that would also find his heart smiting him.
I heard of a gambler—a pastor told me—he said to his pastor, “Pastor, I have changed; I have turned; I have gambled for the last time.”
And the pastor asked him, “Why, why, what happened?”
He said, “Today, I met a little boy on the street. And he was hungry and ragged and cold! And last night, I had won from that little boy’s father his entire earnings. And as I looked at that little boy, hungry and ragged and cold, remembering that last night, I had won at a gambler’s table the entire earnings of his father, my heart smote me, and I said I’ll never gamble again.”
I think that is about as fine an illustration of what repentance means as anything I have ever heard of in my life. “I’ve been going this way, but I’m going to turn around and go this way.” That is repentance! “I have changed. I’ve turned. I’ve been going away from God—but I’ve turned. I’ve changed. I’m going toward God.”
“Let somebody else take the father’s wages. Let somebody else continue down that road, but as for me and my house, we’re turning around; we’re changing; we are facing God-ward and heavenward and Christ-ward. I have repented. I have changed. I have turned!” I repeat, I think that’s one of the best illustrations of the meaning of that Greek word metanoia as I’ve ever heard of in my life. It’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing when a man decides for God. It’s a glorious moment when a family says, “We’re going to walk in the light of the Lord” [1 John 1:7]. And it’s the greatest dedication that a soul can make, “I am opening my heart heavenward, and God-ward and may the Lord bless the work and the fruit of my hands.”
May we stand together? Our dear Lord, when we read in God’s Book the Lord’s program for us, “This is the way, walk ye in it” [Isaiah 30:21], to walk in that pilgrim way is a gladness and a joy unspeakable. The Lord is with us! All the hosts of heaven fight for us! The angels are our attendants and ministers [Hebrews 1:14]. God says so! “Blessed is the man that walks in the way of the Lord” [Psalm 1:1-2]. Ten thousand benedictory remembrances are his from heaven. And our Lord, bless this appeal tonight.
A family, a couple, a one somebody turning to Jesus, “This night, I have decided for God, and here I am.” In this moment when our people pray, intercede just for you; a family to come, a couple to respond, just one somebody you give himself to Jesus; may the Lord encourage you; may the Spirit woo you, and may you make that decision; that first step, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, we are a part of the family of God, and we want to be numbered among you.” Or, “Today, this hour, this moment, I’m taking Jesus as my Savior and giving my heart to Him, and I’m on the way.” As God shall open the door, shall press the appeal, answer with your life. And thank You wonderful Savior for these who come, in Thy precious, and saving, and keeping, and blessing name—amen. While our ministers are here, and while our deacons are here, and while our people pray just for you, make the decision, and come. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, make it now, while we sing and while we pray.
THE GAMBLER’S FADING GOAL Dr. W. A. Criswell
Esther 3:5-7, 13
I. Haman was a gambler – cast lots to set Jewish destruction date
II. Gambling in the US
III. The state
1. Some states legalize gambling
2. Creates climate for gambling
3. Financial structure based on weakness of
4. Erodes citizen’s confidence in government
IV. The individual
1. Appealing – covetousness
4. No joy
V. Christian spiritual life