Businesses Get into the Game

Gwen’s story illustrates the end of the road for gamblers: an all-consuming addiction.  But there are many stops along the way, just as there are many forms of gambling prevalent in our society.

Perhaps we never set foot in a casino; we never buy lottery tickets; we never bet on horses or dogs; we have no part in poker games, maybe we don’t even buy tickets for local raffles.  But there’s another sphere of gambling so well disguised that we often don’t recognize it as gambling.

Nowadays practically every store has a draw or contest going where you can win a new car, Hawaiian holiday, boat, barbeque, computer, camcorder, sewing room, shopping spree, dog, cat, turkey, hot air balloon ride, super-burger & fries, coffee for life.  Anything your heart might desire, some business somewhere is giving it away in some draw or contest.

Just collect enough UPCs, prize points, cereal box tops, game pieces –whatever– and send them in.  Or sign your name on the back of your cash register receipt and drop it in the box on your way out.  Some contests have gone high tech: we’re given a code or number with our purchase and can check on the company’s website to see if we’ve won a prize.

Entering often costs nothing more than a purchase at some store, but we usually have to fill out some kind of entry form.  A good friend of ours from long ago, pastor of an evangelical church, drew his solid line right here.  He said, “Even if you just sign your name on a piece of paper to enter a draw, you are gambling.”

We have thought many times about his stand on the matter.  We’d have a lot less grey areas to waver around in, a lot less befuddling questions to face, if we would draw a few more solid lines for ourselves.

No Free Ride

In spite of their advertising promotions, businesses do NOT give stuff away just for fun, or from the goodness of their hearts.  They are buying a name for themselves — and they are buying a bit of each winner’s life.

Contests and draws are tax write offs, filed under advertising expenses.  The company pays for the ads and the hype as a way of increasing business.  They want–and need– photos of winners with big smiles on their faces as they are handed the keys to the new Lexus or tickets for the cruise.

I took a few minutes one day to read in detail the rules of a contest being run by a well-known fast food chain.  It says there that the winner, as a condition of accepting the prize, agrees to let the company use their name and photos in their future ads to perpetuity.  (Read “forever.”) They are buying a tiny chunk of your family, your life.  Are you willing to sell?

Where do we as Christians find ourselves in this?  Paul warns us about being unequally yoked together with unbelievers.  Can we agree to the terms a contest is asking of us?  Before we enter any contest, however minor, let’s take time to read the fine print and see exactly what we’re agreeing to, should we “hit the jackpot.”

Some prizes are handed out without these stipulations, but even they may have some undesirable consequences.  I remember a contest run by our local supermarket where most of the winners were awarded a $10 gift certificate.  You just went in and collected it; no problem there, not even a photo session.  But the MAIN PRIZE was a ten-minute shopping spree.

The winner was given a cart and a timer was set at ten minutes.  When the store official said “Go” the winner was to rush around the store loading her cart with whatever she could in the ten minutes allotted.  A video camera recorded her progress for a news story in the local paper.  Would you be embarrassed to be filmed rushing around the store in such a display of greed.  Refusing to accept messes everybody up.  “After all,” the store owner will ask, “why did you enter in the first place?”

Christians have committed themselves–we have been “sold into service”–to the Lord of another realm.  Can we serve the god of this world and still be faithful to the other?   Even in such minor points, it pays to stop and consider first.  Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters.”

There are relatively innocent contests where you find a “you have won …” note in your box or pull a tab on your coffee cup and win something small–a donut or cup of coffee–without having to sign your name or enter anything.  I don’t see that accepting what is offered is wrong.

However, I believe we need to think seriously about the nature of this beast, where gambling originates, what spirit it feeds, the damage it has done to lives, homes and families.  Let’s ask the Lord about this pervasive temptation that even some secular writers are calling a destructive influence in our society.


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