The religious response to the spread of sports betting

Before May 2018, legal sports betting was only available in Las Vegas. (Baishampayan Ghose via Creative Commons)

A May 2018 Supreme Court ruling paved the way for legal sports betting across the United States. Once restricted to Nevada, this form of gambling is now offered in 10 states and will soon be available in seven more, according to ESPN.

Churches and other religiously affiliated groups are among those fighting the spread of sports betting. Many faith leaders worry that increasing access to gambling harms vulnerable communities, encourages greed and violates religious teachings. 

However, these concerns often fall on deaf ears, whether they’re shared with state lawmakers or congregants. While 59% of Protestant pastors believe it is morally wrong to bet on sports, according to LifeWay Research, only 31% of U.S. adults feel the same way.

The start of the NFL season offers a chance to write about ongoing debates over the morality of sports betting. This edition of ReligionLink will help you take advantage of it.

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U.S. sources

  • Grace Barnes

    Grace Barnes is a senior research scientist emeritus at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. She studies alcohol use, gambling behaviors and family issues.

  • Kraig Beyerlein

    Kraig Beyerlein directs the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, where he’s also an associate professor of sociology. He studies civic engagement and social networks, and he’s written about how religious belief deters problem gambling.

  • John Dombrink

    John Dombrink is a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine. He studies morality and the law, and he’s written on gambling, abortion, medically assisted suicide and stem cell research.

  • Gabriel Feldman

    Gabriel Feldman directs the sports law program at Tulane University, where he is also an associate professor of law. He is an expert on sports betting policies and serves as an on-air legal analyst for NFL Network.

  • William Galston

    William Galston is a senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings. He has written widely on public policy, democracy and religion.

  • John Hoffmann

    John Hoffmann is a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University. He specializes in problem behaviors and the sociology of religion.

  • Anne Krisnik

    Anne Krisnik is the executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, an interfaith organization in Minnesota that works to influence public policies, including gambling laws.

  • Scott McConnell

    Scott McConnell is the executive director of LifeWay Research, which conducts surveys on issues affecting American religious life and Protestant pastors. Arrange an interview through Aaron Earls.

  • Russell Moore

    Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.

  • Erik C. Owens

    Erik C. Owens is an associate professor of the practice in theology at Boston College, where he also directs the international studies program. He is the co-editor of three books, including Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning and Gambling: Mapping the American Moral Landscape.

  • Jason Powell

    Jason Powell is a Democratic member of the Tennessee House of Representatives. When the state worked on legislation legalizing sports betting, he proposed an amendment to ban it on Sundays for religious reasons.

    Contact: 615-521-6313.
  • Jennifer Roberts

    Jennifer Roberts is the associate director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

  • John Rustin

    John Rustin is president and executive director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, based in Raleigh. The council focuses on a variety of faith-related issues, including conversion therapy and gambling.

  • Kent Siladi

    The Rev. Kent Siladi is a conference minister for the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. Along with fellow church members, he lobbied against expanding gambling access in Connecticut.

  • Mark Tooley

    Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a faith-based organization that tracks how Christian denominations respond to issues such as religious liberty, LGBT rights and immigration and often advocates for a more conservative approach.

  • Lisa Vig

    Lisa Vig serves as a gambling addiction counselor for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

  • Shmuly Yanklowitz

    Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president of Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix. In 2016, he joined with an interfaith group of Arizona leaders to support a ballot initiative seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. He has written about Jewish teachings on gambling.

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