John Bradshaw - Winners and Losers
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. In May of 2013 the jackpot in the United States Powerball Lottery reached a massive $590 million. People who normally did not buy lottery tickets were lining up to buy them all across the fruited plain. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Lottery said that interest in the lottery was at a complete frenzy. The same was true in many states. Ultimately, the lottery would be won by an 84-year-old woman who held the single winning ticket, and she walked away with more than half a billion dollars, the largest lottery payout in American history to that time, at odds of 1 in 175 million.
The odds of the average American being struck by lightning in any given year are 1 in 700,000. A woman has a 230 times better chance of conceiving quadruplets than winning the Powerball Lottery. But millions of people buy lottery tickets, just in case. And why is that? Because, well, you never know. Someone has to win. But for every winner there are millions of losers. And when it comes to gambling, even winners can be losers. The capital city of the state of Victoria in Australia is Melbourne, which has a population well north of 4.5 million people. And in Melbourne, Australia, there is a shrine to gambling, where once a year a horse race is held that is so big race day is a public holiday throughout the state, and it has been for almost 150 years.
Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne is home of the Melbourne Cup, contested on the first Tuesday of November every year. It's the biggest horse race in the southern hemisphere. The Melbourne Cup is really big. It's like the Super Bowl in Australia, except in Melbourne it's bigger than the Super Bowl. In 2018 the Melbourne Cup offered prize money of $7.3 million Australian. That's around $5.5 million US. The winner would take home $4 million Australian, around $3 million US, and trophies worth $200,000. The Melbourne Cup is a phenomenon. Horses, trainers, and jockeys associated with the race become legends.
The first Melbourne Cup was won in 1861 by Archer, who won again the next year. The day after Archer won that first Melbourne Cup, he ran in and won another race over two miles. The legendary Phar Lap, the great New Zealand horse, who won the Cup in 1930 and whose heart is on display in a museum here in Melbourne. There's Think Big and Rain Lover and Kiwi and Van Der Hum, and Bart Cummings, who trained 12 Melbourne Cup winners. Millions of people watch the Melbourne Cup. In fact, my parents traveled here to Flemington Racecourse all the way from New Zealand to watch the Melbourne Cup in the early 1970s, the year Silver Knight won the Melbourne Cup. But as glamorous as this all undoubtedly is, you've got the color and the pageantry and the magnificent horses, as glamorous as it is, there's another side of this that we simply cannot ignore.
What we're dealing with here is gambling, and part of the problem with a horse race being such a glamor event is that it normalizes something that has been described again and again as being a curse on society. Now, while gambling undoubtedly employs a lot of people, generates a lot of economic activity, and drives tourism, gambling has a dark underbelly, takes a very high personal toll on a lot of people. It seems that wherever you have gambling, crime is not very far away. Certainly horse racing over the years has been plagued by crime and corruption and scandal. It is believed that the great Kiwi horse Phar Lap was killed by, by interests who didn't want to see him race in the United States.
Gambling in sport goes way beyond horse racing and therefore so do the scandals. In 1919, players on the Chicago White Sox, in the infamous Black Sox scandal, were paid by gamblers to throw baseball's World Series. An NBA basketball referee served time in prison for fudging calls in games on which he had bet money. Cricket has been repeatedly challenged by scandals related to match fixing and gambling. It's happened in snooker and soccer and tennis. Now, the objection to this is, "Oh, gambling's just harmless fun. It's enjoyed by a lot of people". Well, it is enjoyed by a lot of people. It might even be fun. But it surely isn't harmless, and the values promoted by gambling simply don't line up with the values of the Bible. And gambling addiction is a major issue. People can easily get hooked on gambling. And they do.
And that causes massive problems. One of the problems with gambling is that it's everywhere. Whether you're in Las Vegas or Dubai or New York City or here in Melbourne or in a little out-of-the-way small town somewhere on the fruited plain, there's gambling, and Internet gambling, and it's socially acceptable. And it seems as though everyone's doing it.
In just a moment, we'll meet somebody who's had a lot of experience with gambling, experience that demonstrates just what gambling can do to a life. I'll be right back.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Australia is a sports-mad country. The biggest horse race in the southern hemisphere is the Melbourne Cup, first Tuesday of November. Millions of people watch the race on TV, and crowds of over 100,000 people turn up at Flemington Racecourse to see the big race live. The Melbourne Cricket Ground, the MCG, is Australia's cathedral of cricket. It's also the home of Australian rules football, Aussie football, a lot like Gaelic football. For the uninitiated, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Rugby league is also big in Australia. And along with sports like these, Australians gamble on lotto and scratch cards and at casinos. In fact, it's often been said that Australians would gamble on two flies crawling up a wall. But when you've got an industry whose advertising comes with a warning about the dangers of that industry, well, you have to wonder.
William Shakespeare once wrote that "all that glisters is not gold". When it comes to gambling, you might want to be careful what you ask for. I expect that most everyone has seen the huge jackpots advertised and thought, "Wow, what I could do with that money"! That's natural enough. But you might be better off thinking about what that money could do to you. A British 17-year-old who won a million pounds in the lottery told a newspaper later that she wished she had never won that money. She said, "I thought it would make my life 10 times easier; instead everything became 10 times worse".
An English baker died cursing the fact that he had won 9 million pounds in the lottery in 2005. He said that when they won the money, he and his wife believed that all of their worries were over. Instead, they lost their money, they lost their marriage, and he lost his life. He was bored; he developed an alcohol problem. And it is said the stress of worrying about what to do with that windfall really broke him down. He said, "What's the point of having money at all if it sends you to sleep at night crying"? An American man won $250 million in the lottery. His wife later said she wished he had never bought the ticket.
Now, I can hear somebody saying, "Oh, it's just that these people didn't know how to handle their money". Well, it's true there are many people who've won a lot of money, and their lives have not bottomed out. But I don't know that that justifies an industry where money is lost, often massive sums of money, and lives are frequently ruined. You simply don't hear about many people whose lives are radically altered by the effects of gambling. Children who don't eat because their parents lost money at the casino. Lives that spiral out of control owing to gambling addiction and gambling debts. Crimes that are committed. The massive rearranging of priorities. But even if you don't lose, gambling affects your life, and it affects your soul. I wanted to find out firsthand about gambling and its effects. So I went to see an old friend. David Slack lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. He knows a lot about gambling from firsthand experience. He's able to assess gambling from a Christian perspective.
John Bradshaw: So how did you get involved in gambling?
David Slack: Well, uh, when I was younger, John, a lot of, um, friends of my parents used to come around and play cards on a Sunday night. They had a Sunday night card school and, um, I was introduced through this, this card game; my mum sometimes would let me play a hand while she went out to prepare the, uh, snacks for the players, and, uh, and I used to sit listening, uh, to the radio. I was really, um, taken in by the commentary of, of the patter of the commentator. And, uh, and so I would pick horses out and imagine that they were running for me. I'd go to the races with my mum and dad, and, um, I can remember really the, the first bet that I had, um, it won. And, uh, and so that's where, really, where it started.
John Bradshaw: So, you went from playing cards to basically all forms of gambling?
David Slack: Anything, yeah, anything that, pool, which I was hopeless at, like snooker, ah, sporting games, anything, anything that moved, you, you just, if you could gamble, you gambled.
John Bradshaw: So, once you started gambling, how quickly did you get from gambling to stealing to support your gambling habit?
David Slack: Not long after.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
David Slack: Uh, you know, I'd go around the back of hotels, steal bottles back in those days. I'd take my duffle bag and fill it up, and then go to a dairy and, and cash up. Um, back in those days, they used to deliver milk and, and bread and cream. And, uh, I'd go along the road, going into people's milk boxes and taking the money out. And so that was sort of petty crime.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
David Slack: And then when I started work, then I started stealing, um, product from the company that I worked for, uh, and that all, that all financed your gambling.
John Bradshaw: How low did gambling take you?
David Slack: My marriage ended. Uh, I lost my job, and I lost my house. So, that, that was a pretty low point. But, um, things went even lower. Uh, I was 27 and, um, what was I gonna do? You know, I had no income, so at that stage I turned to crime, and I never worked for the next 13 years, just lived off the proceeds of crime. And so, um, I became a, um, a bookie here in New Zealand. Um, and, uh, that turned into a, um, a really huge business. I turned over enormous amounts of money, but it didn't matter because no matter how much I won, I just gambled it away. I got arrested probably five or six, maybe more, times for bookmaking. Police would kick the door in and burst in, looking for evidences, and...
John Bradshaw: So why didn't you quit, David? Just too much money?
David Slack: Too much money. You have, you know, for a compulsive gambler, you know, here it was. Um, you know, I had a, I had a flash car; I lived wherever I wanted to. If I ever wanted to hop on a plane, I could hop on a plane and fly off wherever I wanted to. And I just guessed, I thought that I was living the life of Jack the Lad, but all the time, of course, not knowing that I was a slave to the devil.
John Bradshaw: At some stage it occurred to you that you were a slave?
David Slack: No.
John Bradshaw: Well, at some stage God got hold of you.
David Slack: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: Well, tell me how that unfolded.
David Slack: That's the miracle part about it, is that, uh... at this stage, I'd, I'd met my wife. She didn't, you know, she hated gambling; she hated it. And she was pretty staunch. She said, "No, I'm not going to marry you. No, I don't, I don't want, I don't want this gambling in my life". But then I kept on, and finally she said, "Okay. Look, here's the go. You know, we'll get married, but there's to be no gambling in the house. I don't want it on TV; I don't want people ringing up, putting bets on; I don't want card games going on here". And, um, because you're, once again, because you're a compulsive liar when you're a compulsive gambler, that's one of the traits that go with it, I say, "Yeah, yeah, no, no, none of that'll happen," full well knowing that once we were married, and I was back in there, that things would just carry on. And then we were due to get married on a Saturday, and, uh, on Thursday morning, two days before we were due to get married, I woke up, and I had this amazing feeling, and, um...Debbie said, "What's up"? And, uh, I said, "I don't know; I've just got this unusual feeling, like I don't want to gamble today". Because every day I got up and went off and gambled.
John Bradshaw: So that day you had no urge to gamble?
David Slack: No, there was no urge, and, uh, and, uh... and then from that day to this, and that's, uh, 30 years ago now, I've never had any desire to gamble. It was just a straight-out miracle. And I'd never asked God to, to heal me, you know. I, I was really full on in the life that I was living.
John Bradshaw: So how could this have happened? Was somebody praying for you?
David Slack: Well, after we got married, um, and Debbie didn't say anything on that, on that, that morning when I woke up, and, um, and then about a couple of weeks later, she said to me, "Oh, I prayed". And I said, "What? What do you know about prayer"? Because she liked going to nightclubs and parties and things like that, you know. And I said, "What did you say"? And she said, "Oh, 'If there's a God out there, you know, I, I, I really don't want to marry David as a gambler, and, um, I've tried to change him, but I, I can't. He doesn't listen to me, and if, if you could do that, I'd be really grateful.'" And so this is from someone who didn't really know anything about God.
John Bradshaw: And yet God answered her prayer?
David Slack: Yeah, and God answered her prayer. Amazing! Just an amazing miracle. Yeah. I still look back every day, you know, I'm so grateful that she prayed that prayer.
John Bradshaw: So, what about people who were not or are not problem gamblers? What about them?
David Slack: Oh, I haven't met many of those, John. You know, I haven't, uh, you know, they're, they're, I guess they're around somewhere, but I, I haven't met really too many of the recreational gamblers. The, the vast majority of gamblers that I know are compulsive gamblers. I had a friend who was a heroin addict; my, my best friend was a heroin addict. And, you know, the poker machines are the heroin addiction of the gambling industry. They're geared to suck your money out.
John Bradshaw: So, what do you say to somebody who's struggling with gambling and has heard your story?
David Slack: Number one, there's hope. At Gamblers Anonymous, that I'm involved in now, when people ask me, "What's the best thing that's happened to you since, since you stopped gambling"? I say, uh, "Freedom. I'm a slave no longer". Uh, and, and this, you know, following the 12-step program gives you all of that. You know, that's, that's the most successful way. And, and embracing Jesus, that's, that's really the key to, uh, the, the change of life. Um, there really is no other way. There was no other way for me. I was just gonna continue on and, and as I was, in my gambling career, and, and Jesus changed my life. And so, it's the same, it can happen for anyone.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. You know, as far back as I can remember, gambling was part of my family. My mother's father owned race horses. Her brother was a somewhat successful owner-trainer. And my father gambled religiously. I remember coming with him, usually on Saturday mornings, to this very building. He would gamble here, and then we'd wait throughout the day to see just how successful he'd been or hadn't been. I remember being here and seeing men and women lining up, waiting to gamble away money they simply couldn't afford to lose. Now, my dad never ever bet large sums of money. He certainly didn't jeopardize the family's well-being. We definitely didn't go without because my dad bet on horses. But I often wondered what it would have been like if Dad had taken the money he frittered away on horses and invested it in a constructive way.
I remember my dad telling me several times about men where he worked. On payday they'd take their pay packet down to where illegal gambling was taking place and lose everything. And they'd have nothing to take home to their families. As a teenager, I'd work long days at a gas station. And it wasn't long before I would be off to the race track and lose it all. I was never a successful gambler. I learnt young that once it's gone, you can't get it back. It's better not to risk it in the first place. What I didn't find out until much later is that God is against get-rich-quick schemes. Proverbs 13:7, "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing". And conversely, there is "one that makes himself poor, yet has great riches". God cautions against get-rich-quick schemes, that desire to get a lot in a very short period of time. And that's what motivates a lot of gambling and a lot of gamblers.
You see, there's a commandment that pretty well everybody forgets. It's the tenth commandment. It says, "Thou shalt not covet". That's Exodus 20:17. Hebrews 13:5 says, "Let your conduct be without covetousness". Covetousness, according to the Apostle Paul, is idolatry. Now, of course we need money, and it's great to have excess, but a prime reason for excess is so that it can be used to bless others. We are stewards of what God gives us. When money becomes your god, you've got real problems. You break the tenth commandment, you're breaking the first commandment, which says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". Proverbs 3:9 says, "Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase". That means that what we've been given by God has been given for the purpose of honoring God. Throwing money away gambling certainly is not honoring God.
Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". Gambling, like a number of other things, helps you to see where your treasure is, and, therefore, where your heart is. First Timothy 6:9-10 says, "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows". How many people do you think, desiring to win the big one, have "pierced themselves through with many sorrows"? This is a lot like Proverbs 28:22, which says, "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him".
So, what if you're one of these people who gambles just a little? Not a lot, just a little, like my dad used to. Well, if it's just a little, you won't find it too terribly difficult to give up. But if you're wanting to give up gambling, your gambling problem is a serious one, that can be a real challenge. Here's what you do: You lean on the promises of God. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". Philippians 1:6, "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ". Philippians 2:13, "It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". God can do it in your life. If it's gambling, God can take that away. If it's something else, a substance issue, God can take that away. Something deep down in your heart. God can do it for you. There's power in those promises. There's power in God's Word. You see, God is a deliverer, and He'll deliver you from gambling or, or whatever it is. If you'll allow Him to do so, God will be in your life everything that He really is.