Why gambling is so popular and so addictive

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This week, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibits sports gambling. The landmark decision gives states the right to legalize betting on sports.

New Jersey plans to be the first state to offer legal wagering on the results of a game. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are expected to follow suit.

My purpose today is not to debate the legalities of sports gambling. Rather, it is to focus on gambling in the context of biblical truth and God’s best for us.

The promise and power of gambling

According to the American Gaming Association, gambling in the US is a $240 billion industry employing 1.7 million people in forty states. Why is gambling so popular?

The former Director of Gaming Enforcement for the state of New Jersey told a conference that the success of Atlantic City was tied to how well it sold its “only products.” He explained:

“That product is not entertainment or recreation or leisure. It’s really adrenaline: a biological substance capable of producing excitement–highs generated usually by anticipation or expectation of a future event, especially when the outcome of that event is in doubt.”

According to a chief regulator of the industry, gambling is not only a drug, but a mind-altering drug. One author calls it a “controlled substance.”

Psychologists offer several reasons for the popularity of gambling in our culture:

• It provides a sense of partial reinforcement we crave. “I’ll get lucky next time” is a powerful lure.
• Some fall for the “gambler’s fallacy” of believing that a string of losses makes a win more likely.
• The illusion of control causes many gamblers to believe that they have some power over the outcome (whether picking numbers in a lottery or blowing on dice before throwing them).
• Loss aversion is a major motivator: we feel more pain over losing $100 than joy over winning $100. When a gambler loses money, he or she is motivated to keep…

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