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More than 30 years ago, an editorial in the Baptist Messenger called Oklahoma a “hot spot” for gambling because our state then had more than 20 casinos. Fast forward to today, according to the latest numbers, Oklahoma now has more than 100 casinos and is undeniably a “hot spot” for gambling.

During that same time period, Oklahoma has seen a decline in overall church attendance, at least among Southern Baptists in Oklahoma. According to a 2017 statistic from Chris Forbes, a church planting expert, only 40 percent of Oklahomans are considered “churched.” That means that 60 percent of people are de-churched, unaffiliated or part of another religion besides Christianity.

With casinos booming and church life declining, it’s worth stopping to ask the question, “Why do people gamble in the first place?” A recent article talked about the psychology behind gambling.

While the immediate reason is obvious—people want to get more money quickly and easily—the article gave other reasons, including people’s desire to escape, to do something they view as glamorous or just for social interaction.

Some of the longings casino gambling promises to fulfill are actually heart longings that can only be fulfilled with life with Jesus Christ and in His Church.

While TV commercials depict people at casinos having a blast, the more accurate depiction may be that of a chain-smoking, lonely person pumping money into a slot machine for hours on end.

Even for those who do get social interaction at casinos, it would not be the kind of deep community that you find in the Body of Christ. The empty entertainment people find at casinos has no telos, or end purpose. In church life, though, we discover that life is primarily designed for service in God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:45), through which we find ultimate fulfillment.

While Christians should not stand with our arms folded, with judgmental looks toward those flocking to casinos these days, we do stand ready to point them to a better way. That is the Way of abundant life found in Jesus Christ (John 10:10). And that’s the Way that always pays off in the end.