Canadian comedian Norm Macdonald passed away in 2021. He was known for his work in stand-up comedy, film, and a stint on Saturday Night Live. One of the lesser-known sides of Norm was a long-time gambling addiction that he never quite seemed to get a handle on. Norm gave some insight into the nature of this addiction before he died:
“Most people would think it’s the wins that keep the gambler going, but any gambler knows this is not true. As you place your chips on the craps table, you feel anxiety and impatience. When the red dice hit the green felt with a thunk and you’re declared the winner and the chips are pushed toward you, you feel relief. Relief is all. And relief is fine, but hardly what a man would give the whole rest of his life to gain.
It has to be something else, and the best I’ve come up with is this: It is a particular moment. A magic moment that occurs after the placing of a bet and before the result of that bet. It is after the red dice are thrown but before they lie still on the green felt where they fall. It is when the dice are in the air, and as long as they are there, time stops. As long as the red dice are in the air, the gambler has hope. And hope is a wonderful thing to be addicted to.”
There must be something to this, because gambling has been around for as long as recorded human history has. It seems to be a universal human phenomenon, crossing cultural lines throughout history.
This is true of sports betting, too. Ancient artifacts show evidence of Egyptians wagering on chariot races, Greeks betting on the Olympic games, and Romans taking odds on gladiator contests.
In Canada, sports betting blew wide open a couple of years ago when new legislation allowed provinces to roll out plans for single-event betting, legalizing sports gambling across various platforms. The provinces have opened new avenues for wagering, quickly becoming very profitable.
One can’t watch a sports game without ads, of course, and these days, you can’t watch an event without being bombarded by ads specifically for sports betting. Adding this new element to one’s enjoyment of sports is increasingly common.
But is this a good idea for the Christian man? What are we to do with this phenomenon?
Impactus will explore the issue through a series of articles over the next couple of months, digging into both the practical and biblical sides of a man’s approach to sports-related gambling.
One of the things we must consider at the outset is the fruit of the endeavour.
Noah Vineberg is an Ottawa-area man who told his story in a riveting article for Maclean’s. He spoke of getting hooked as a teenager on sports betting through PROLINE tickets and graduating to more intense forms of gambling and sports wagers, costing him not only a vast amount of money but also putting a tremendous amount of overwhelming pressure on his career, his relationships, and his mental and emotional health, even pushing him to contemplate suicide.
Or read James’ story about betting $200,000 on sports during the previous year and his reflections on how betting on his phone in this day and age meant that he could never escape the pull, since he had his phone on him at all times.
Or consider this gambling addiction site, where a series of stories are told like that of Chad, who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (including losing $50,000 in one 24-hour period) but, much more costly, lost his wife in the process.
Stories like these have different details but often many stark similarities:
- All of them started off “small,” with low amounts wagered on occasional events, and all experienced a slow but gripping escalation.
- All of them likened the draw to full-on addiction—knowing they should stop but feeling physically and mentally unable to break away.
- All of them saw the extremely high cost that their wives and children paid, not just in terms of lost money (which was significant) but in terms of an absent and overwhelmed husband and father.
- All of them felt trapped, lost, and helpless to escape the vicious cycle.
There may be a relatively “harmless” application of sports betting, in the same way that a man could potentially have an occasional glass of wine without going any further or letting it have a detrimental effect on his life.
But for the man of God, the question of whether we should participate in something should not begin with, “How far can I take this without going too far?” Questioning like this should already be a red flag for us—we must know that there is something dangerous about what we’re playing with if we’re talking that way.
Instead, the man of God asks questions such as, “Is this good?” “Is this biblical?” “Is this healthy?” “Is this wise?”
Over the following few articles, we will explore some of these questions, seeking to discern wisely what the Lord would have us do as we dig into this topic together.
This article is part 1 of a 4-part series on this topic. Check out the rest of the series in our articles “Sports Betting: How Big a Deal is This?” “Sports Betting: What Does the Bible Actually Say?” and “Sports Betting: How Do I Get Free?“
 “Based on a True Story: A Memoir” by Norm Macdonald