OPINION: Proper now could be the time to face up towards gambling

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By ANDREW T. WALKER

According to Kentucky Today, the Republican-led state Senate is set to introduce a new bill next week that would expand gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The expected legislation would attempt to resolve the ongoing debate over the Historical Horse Racing slot machines that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against. Because the Supreme Court ruled against their illegal implementation, the legislature is hoping to pass enabling legislation that would allow these machines to get up and running again.

Why would the legislature take time out of their short session during a pandemic to see such legislation pass? So that the state can continue to generate the tax revenue from Kentuckians’ gambling losses. That’s right, some legislators think Kentucky wins when Kentuckians lose. The Kentucky legislature is so preoccupied with Kentuckians’ losing their money to a predatory industry that it is prioritizing it over and against a myriad of other issues facing Kentucky.

The first rule of public policy is to do no harm. By that standard, what the legislature is embarking upon upends the first principle of government’s purpose according to Scripture: “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). To pass a gambling bill is to get this biblical formula exactly backwards: It is to praise a vice by allowing it to prosper with government approval and to punish the good by incentivizing financial mismanagement. Talk about a mix-up of priorities.

To get a sense of why gambling is wrong and counterproductive, let’s take a look at the idea of Kentucky being a “Commonwealth.” Commonwealth is derived from the idea of the “Commonweal” which is an archaic term referring to the idea of the “general welfare,” or what we might call “the common good.” The common good is the idea that we all have a stake in promoting the types of conditions that cause everyone to thrive in society. To focus on the common good means to maximize the ability for people to flourish. The common good is only “common” insofar as it serves everyone equally. Gambling does exactly the opposite. It serves the interest of a few to the detriment of the many by catering to powerful financial interests.

Some may make the libertarian argument that increased tax revenue serves the interest of all. But to focus on the interests of the state through increased tax revenue is at odds with looking out for the interests of those who would be most likely to gamble—those on the lower socioeconomic ladder. We as Christians and Kentuckians cannot love our neighbor and seek the financial interests of the state while simultaneously fleecing our neighbor.

What are some other reasons to oppose gambling? There are reasons too numerous to count, but let’s name just a few.

  • Gambling hurts families by impoverishing them.
  • Gambling hurts families by creating behavior that leads to their destruction.
  • Gambling caters to personalities with addiction struggles.
  • Gambling creates government corruption.
  • Gambling preys on human weakness.
  • Gambling teaches an ungodly system of wealth accumulation.
  • Gambling disincentives work.
  • Gambling invites social pathologies into the culture through the rise of other questionable industries that pop up around gambling (e.g., payday lending, sexually-oriented businesses).

There is more at stake in this debate than just personal entertainment preferences. Gambling is one of the few forms of “entertainment” that results in the proliferation of human misery. A “hands off” libertarian approach to gambling may relieve someone of their own personal dislike of gambling, but it only feeds the wrongheaded assumption that individual behavior has no bearing on the rest of society. Where someone suffers from gambling, others have to be present to pick up the broken pieces. We all have a stake in caring for one another by resisting an industry that seeks no higher interest than its own profit margins.

Kentucky Baptists should stand united against this legislation and should contact their legislator to voice their opposition. You can call the legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181. Operators will help you identify your legislator and take your message. You can also email your legislator directly to let them know you are opposed to expanded gambling sinking its teeth into Kentucky.

Kentucky Baptists, right now is the time to have our message heard. If we’re looking for a way to love our neighbor and be salt and light in our culture, doing so is only a phone call or email away.

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Public Affairs Advisor to the Kentucky Baptist Convention.