Room, Board & Bookies

What do you get when you combine computers, credit cards, and college students? The answer is: gambling. In a culture where gambling no longer carries any stigma, it's spreading to ever-younger age groups. These days, many college students are required to purchase computers. But it turns out that vast numbers of collegians are using their PCs to place bets on sporting events. A survey of students at six colleges revealed that nearly 33 percent of male students and 15 percent of female students place at least one sports bet a week. Campus gambling has become a new growth industry, and student bookies can be found on virtually every college. Gambling services actively target collegians at campus gathering places, and even solicit students via e-mail. In other words, our most promising young people are being deliberately subjected to the temptations of gambling—an activity that leads to addiction, increased crime, and to the destruction of the family. How in the world did this happen? We have to understand that the campus of today is a far different place from the campus of just even twenty years ago. First, there's the technology that makes gambling possible. An expert on gambling for the NCAA says, "No population group has greater access to computers than college students." Students "are wired right in their dorm rooms [and] they know how to use the Internet." Today's students have something else their predecessors didn't have: credit cards. Some 65 percent of students today have a credit card, with an average spending limit of $5000. These cards make it possible for college students to quickly run up huge gambling debts. But neither of these factors would have much influence without a dramatic change in cultural attitudes toward gambling. While gambling has always existed, not long ago it operated at the margins of society. People placed bets in secret, or they had to travel to places like Las Vegas, whose embrace of gambling gave it a tawdry reputation. Gambling was done furtively, because a majority of Americans had strong moral objections to it. By contrast, today nearly every state has some form of legalized gambling. States launch multi-million dollar ad campaigns encouraging citizens to gamble, with the profits ostensibly going to things we all support—like education. Placing a bet has almost become a civic duty. The result is that gambling is portrayed as an innocent, victimless form of entertainment. This change in attitude is especially dangerous to young people. As any parent can tell you, even college students can have difficulty anticipating the long-term consequences of their behavior. Today the average college student graduates with thousands of dollars in credit card debt—much of it from gambling. As Christians, we should support efforts to curb access to online gambling. But there's also no substitute for teaching our children, by word and by example, about the perils of gambling. And we ought to think twice before allowing them to have credit cards with a $5000 spending limit. Otherwise, we may find our children getting addicted instead of getting degrees. And we may end up paying not only their tuition bills, but their bookies' bets as well.


Chuck Colson


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