Bennett Gambles His Credibility
May 5, 2003
Most people have reacted to the stunning news that came out over the weekend about former Secretary of Education and drug czar Bill Bennett being a high-stakes gambler in one of two ways. They have either lamented that someone who has stood for “values” and “virtues” in society is not living what he preaches or they have justified his actions as both personal and acceptable as long as no one got hurt. I disagree with both of these and I’ll explain why in a minute.
The reaction by the mainstream media is fairly typical of what happens when they think they have a conservative Christian backed into a corner on an issue regarding morality: pure unadulterated glee. They have been longing to nail anyone who calls themselves a Christian conservative who are always being so self-righteous by trying to tell people how to live their lives while they themselves disobey their own advice. And now the liberal press is rejoicing because they got the grand daddy of them all, the very man who compiled and published “The Book Of Virtues,” for which he made the millions of dollars he has now squandered playing at Las Vegas casinos.
The impact of this story would not be nearly as damaging if it was anyone else. But Bill Bennett has not only represented the Christian right, he IS the Christian right to many in the political realm. His no holds barred, straight talk in regards to the moral issues of the day has been unrivaled in modern American politics. Bennett has long been a champion for a return to the traditional family values that many conservatives believe would make our society better off than it is today. But as much as I have respected him in the past for standing for what is right, he is DEAD WRONG on the issue of gambling.
Bennett admits that he has “gambled all” of his life and that gambling is “not a moral issue” with him. All in all, Bennett has purportedly lost nearly $8 million over the past ten years playing video poker and slot-machines in four different casinos, which all allow him to keep a revolving line of credit of at least $200,000. In fact, he is such a regular that the casinos roll out the red carpet for him, giving him free limo rides and tens of thousands of dollars worth of hotel rooms and amenities.
Even though he willingly admits to wagering hundreds of thousands of dollars a night, Bennett denies that he has lost millions of dollars. “I'd say I've come out pretty close to even,” he said. Somehow, though, Bennett believes his gambling is okay because he claims to “adhere to the law” and that he doesn’t “play the ‘milk money’” to “put (his) family at risk” and that he doesn’t “owe anyone anything.” But records show that he wired more than $1.4 million to cover the losses incurred at one casino during a recent two-month stretch. Additionally, casino workers have seen Bennett stay at a casino for days at a time trying to catch up on the money he has lost. These are all signs of a man who has become a compulsive gambler.
It is a sad state of affairs for someone who is so well respected by those of us who are Christian conservatives. It is most certainly hypocritical to be making $50,000 speeches heralding values and virtues as the answer to societal problems and then turning right around and gambling away that same money. Although Bill Bennett wants to deny this truth, GAMBLING IS A SIN!
Unfortunately, Bennett says that gambling is not a moral issue to him. Amazingly, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with drinking either.
“I view it (gambling) as drinking. If you can't handle it, don't do it.”
No, no, no, no, no, Mr. Bennett. You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. Although you have been the media darling for Christian conservatives for many years, it is time for you to step aside because your philosophy does not match up with what Christian conservatives believe. Although Democrats and the liberal press will have a good time at your expense with this revelation about your beliefs, the fact remains that Christian conservatives believe strongly that gambling (and drinking for that matter) is a sin and threatens the livelihood of our society. That’s why we oppose state-sponsored lotteries and video poker. They are immoral and have no place in our society.
Studies on gambling have found that families are threatened by this addiction known as gambling. Just a few decades ago, gambling was considered to be highly addictive and dangerous to the welfare of the family. This is still true today. And while Bennett says that he has not lost money gambling, he is willingly funding an activity that has literally destroyed hundreds of thousands of families all across this country.
My reaction to this story is simple: Gambling is a sin and has no place in the life of someone who calls himself a Christian. It is morally wrong for anyone to gamble away the hard-earned money that God has entrusted him to invest. Gambling is especially reprobate to someone who claims to be a Christian. It is not only inconsistent with living the Christian life, the effects are multifaceted from a social, moral, economic and relational standpoint.
While Bennett somehow believes his gambling is okay because he hasn’t lost any money, why hasn’t he used that money to further needy Christian or conservative causes? Wouldn’t the money have been better spent investing it in something with tangible and possibly eternal value? What is the return on the investment when you are throwing money away at a casino?
God has made us the caretakers over all that we have. Actually, everything we own is His and His alone. Therefore, if we act irresponsibly with what God has entrusted us with, then we are not being good stewards of the resources He has given us. God expects us to act in accordance with what is right. Someone who gambles his money away is telling God that He cannot be trusted. God makes it very clear that anyone who is disobedient with His laws will be held accountable for his actions.
The motivation for gambling runs the gamut: greed, lust, excitement, having fun, being bored. Yet all of these can make a person fall into moral decadence! We must choose to live our lives responsibly, honoring the One who has allowed us to have life. Choosing to let chance decide your fate is not very smart at all. Nevertheless, that is exactly what people like Bill Bennett are doing when they gamble their money. It’s a bad choice to make!
Many people (and I’m sure Bill Bennett is one of them) are proud to point out that there is no Biblical prohibition against gambling. While that may be literally true, I do believe there are examples and principles that can be applied to the issue of gambling that make it wrong. The New Testament is full of Scriptures that talk about being a good example. When someone in authority lives his life as an example for others to follow, then the credibility of that person and his message is confirmed.
Whether Bill Bennett realizes it or not, the way he lives his life deeply affects a lot more people than just himself! He should be asking himself these questions: What kind of example am I setting for others? Is my behavior going to have a positive and beneficial effect in the lives of those around me? Am I following the good example of those who taught me right from wrong?
Jesus Christ was the perfect example of godliness and holiness for each of us to strive for. It is inconceivable that anyone would fail to see the immorality found in the sin of gambling when compared to the life of Jesus Christ. Remember the Biblical account of Jesus getting angry at the money changers who were gambling in His house. Although Jesus was mad at them for making a mockery out of God’s house, he was undoubtedly also disappointed at the sight of their gambling.
God talks about the subject of money more than any other topic in the Bible. He consistently chastens man to stay away from greed, lust and the love of money and to embrace righteousness, godliness and meekness. Isn’t it amazing how gambling looks a lot like those things that God instructs us to flee and directly contradicts all of those principles that God would have us to do?! Simply said, gambling is a direct contradiction to the Christian life. A Christian cannot live a godly life if he is gambling away his family’s income.
As for Bill Bennett, his credibility is shot. As long as he believes that gambling is morally acceptable, his word cannot be relied upon to speak on behalf of Christian conservatives. It will be interesting to hear the reaction from people such as Dr. James Dobson from Focus on the Family who have been so supportive of Bennett in the past.
This incident does not spell the end of the impact of Christian conservativism on our culture. Although Bill Bennett was a highly regarded national spokesman on moral and cultural issues, he is not the only one. Dr. Dobson, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Alan Keyes and many others are able and ready to defend those traditional family values that would restore our culture back to the safety and security of days gone by. Thanks to the millions of Christians all across the United States, righteous living still has a strong and unwavering voice in American society.