Lessons from Las Vegas July 28 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I have to confess that this blog originated from Las Vegas, a.k.a. “sin city,” earlier this week. It just happened to be a convenient stop on our way home from a visit with our younger son and his family in Denver. In other words, we did not go out of our way to stop there. I wanted to clarify that point, because Las Vegas generally lives up to its famous nickname, but that was not the reason we were there. However, Las Vegas presents a fascinating study on the propensities of mankind, which stimulated the thinking about this blog.

That the Las Vegas nickname is consistent with its reputation was recently confirmed by a survey of professionals in the fields of branding,  marketing, and  advertising who were asked to identify the best city slogans and nicknames. Participants evaluated about 800 nicknames and 400 slogans based on several criteria: whether the nickname or slogan expresses the brand character, affinity, style, and personality of the city; whether it tells a story in a clever, fun, and memorable way; and whether it "inspires you to visit there, live there, or learn more."

The “sin city” moniker was ranked second, behind only  New York City's "The Big Apple." Las Vegas also had the top-rated slogan: "What Happens Here, Stays Here," further solidifying its lurid reputation. Some also call it the “city of lost wages,” a lighthearted way of saying that there are also some down sides to “sin city.”

As I took a walk by some of the hotels, casinos, high-end shops, and new high-rise construction Wednesday morning, I could see the evidence that the marketing strategy has worked fabulously well, from an economic standpoint. And the hospitality and construction industries there provides employment for many thousands of hard-working residents and families in the Las Vegas region. As we know, however, what happens there does not always stay there, because the sins that are celebrated in Las Vegas also have real-life consequences in homes and businesses in the U.S. and internationally. Sadly, we have personally seen lives devastated and families torn apart when gambling becomes a life-dominating practice.

Gambling opportunities may soon be expanding even further given that the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a 25-year old federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that largely outlawed sports betting outside Nevada. The court’s 6-3 decision creates a path for other states to pass statutes that would legalize sports betting within their borders. This doesn’t mean that most states will do that, but if the proliferation of casinos is any indication, one could assume that sports gambling opportunities will follow suit.

There are various lists of reasons why people gamble. Here is one from the California Council on Problem Gambling:

  • Hoping for a big win (i.e. dreams of getting rich quickly)
  • Trying to win back lost money
  • Seeking the excitement of risk-taking
  • Impulsivity
  • Trying to feel better about themselves
  • Escaping from loneliness, depression, anxiety and/or other unpleasant feelings
  • Hiding from life’s problems
  • Distraction from physical or emotional pain

The Bible does not mention anything directly about gambling, nor does it condemn entertainment or money per se. However, the Scriptures address the dangers that exist when someone is motivated or controlled by greed, wealth, and pursuit of mere pleasure and self-indulgence. Even Solomon, one of the wealthiest men to ever live, was aware enough of the dangers to state: “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man” (Proverbs 21:17a).

But it is not that we can blame an addiction to gambling on the Supreme Court, the Nevada Gaming Commission, or even the casinos themselves. As James 1:14-15 states, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” We see that temptations are all around us, that they are “common to man” (I Corinthians 10:13), and that we have no one to blame but ourselves. But the Scriptures also provide specific guidance about what to do.

In fact, if you were to go back and review BCF’s “Addiction” series of blogs in Fall/Winter 2017/2018, you would find that much of our scriptural study of drug addiction also applies to the very same sins that have made Las Vegas famous. In those blogs, we looked at a scientific explanation of addiction in the chemistry of the brain, in which craving is driven by dopamine, the flow of which is increased with the use of drugs. This is the same dopamine that stimulates the craving to keep putting money in a slot machine or engage in other self-indulgent activities that tempt us to come back for more and more and more. But just as James 1:14-15 clearly states that we have no one to blame but ourselves, God is also faithful “who will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it.” In other words, we are not forced to yield to temptation.

Even though Las Vegas may be the iconic city of these sins, and what stimulated the writing of this blog, temptations abound in many other places and ways, and they can have results that are just as destructive. But the same hope and strength that is there to resist the temptation to take drugs is there for the one addicted to gambling, or to entertainment, or to any number of other things. Rather that repeat everything here from the drug addiction series, you can go back to Parts 3 and 4 of the “Addiction: Who’s in Control” series. These would be dated February 4 and February 19, 2018. You can get there faster if you click on this link and scroll to the appropriate dates.


The beauty of the Scriptures is that solutions to our problems are not so complicated as man’s philosophies make them out to be. Whereas man says that we need months and months of therapy, God keeps it very simple: recognize our sin, humbly ask His forgiveness, keep putting off the old self with its sinful practices, and actively put on the new practices of righteousness. Addiction blog part 3 explains how this works and how you can make a specific plan to resist life’s temptations and rely on God’s power to keep walking in His way. The solutions are simple to understand, but at the same time very humbling, because we must admit that we cannot do this on our own. And the pull of the flesh is strong.

In Luke 12:13-15, Jesus was asked by someone to intervene in a dispute over an inheritance, who said to Jesus, “tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus saw this as an opportunity to teach a lesson, saying “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” In other words, winning the lottery or a big jackpot in Vegas is not going to solve all our problems. True joy is found in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is available to all: rich and poor, male and female, every race and background, famous and obscure.

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Steve Smith