BY ANDREW T. WALKER
According to Kentucky Today, the Republican-led Senate will introduce a new bill next week designed to expand gambling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The anticipated legislation would attempt to resolve the ongoing debate over the historic horse racing slot machines that the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled against. With the Supreme Court ruling against their illegal implementation, lawmakers are hoping to pass laws that would allow these machines to go back online.
During a pandemic, why should lawmakers take the time to see how such laws are passed? So that the state can continue to generate the tax revenue from the Kentuckians’ gambling losses. That’s right, some lawmakers think Kentucky wins when Kentuckians lose. Kentucky lawmakers are so preoccupied with losing their money to a predatory industry that Kentuckians are prioritizing it over and against a host of other problems Kentucky faces.
The first rule of public order is not to cause harm. According to this standard, what the legislature is doing changes the first principle of governmental purpose according to Scripture: “To punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). Passing a gambling law is taking this biblical formula exactly backwards: it means praising a vice by prospering with government approval, and punishing good by incentivizing financial mismanagement. Talk about a mix up of priorities.
To get a feel for why gambling is wrong and counterproductive, let’s take a look at the idea that Kentucky is a “Commonwealth”. Commonwealth derives from the idea of ”common good,” an archaic term that refers to the idea of ”general welfare” or what we might call the “common good.” The common good is the idea that we are all interested in promoting the types of conditions in which everyone can thrive in society. Focusing on the common good means maximizing people’s ability to thrive. The common good is only “common” insofar as it serves all equally. Gambling does just the opposite. It serves the interests of the few to the detriment of the many by responding to powerful financial interests.
Some may make the libertarian argument that higher tax revenues are in the interests of all. Focusing on the interests of the state through higher tax revenues, however, goes against looking for the interests of those most likely to gamble – those on the lower socio-economic ladder. As Christians and Kentuckians, we cannot love our neighbors and seek the financial interests of the state while fleeing from our neighbors.
What are other reasons to oppose gambling? There are reasons too numerous to count, but let’s name a few.
- Gambling hurts families by impoverishing them.
- Gambling harms families by creating behaviors that lead to their destruction.
- Gambling is aimed at personalities with addiction struggles.
- Gambling creates corruption in government.
- Gambling prey on human weakness.
- Gambling teaches an ungodly system of wealth creation.
- Gambling disincentives work.
- Gambling invites social pathologies into the culture by creating other questionable industries that engage in gambling (e.g., payday loans, sexually oriented businesses).
This debate is about more than just personal entertainment preferences. Gambling is one of the few forms of “entertainment” that spreads human misery. A libertarian approach to gambling can free someone from their personal aversion to gambling, but only feeds the false assumption that individual behavior does not affect the rest of society. If someone suffers from gambling, others must be present to pick up the broken pieces. We all have an interest in nurturing one another by opposing an industry that has no interests above its own profit margins.
Kentucky Baptists should unite against this legislation and turn to their lawmakers to voice their opposition. You can call the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. The operators help you to identify your legislator and to absorb your message. You can also email your lawmaker directly to let them know that you are against an expanded game of chance that is sinking its teeth in Kentucky.
Kentucky Baptists, now is the time to hear our message. If we are looking for a way to love our neighbor and be salt and light in our culture, it is just a phone call or email away.
Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Public Affairs Advisor to the Kentucky Baptist Convention.