Several weeks ago, someone I know was playing the slot machines at a casino and right before departing for the evening, hit a large jackpot. And I mean large – not $100, or $1000, or even $10,000 – but $100,000. That’s right – at a slot machine. It was one of the largest wins recorded that didn’t happen at a gaming table. As pleased as I was for this person, there wasn’t even the slightest pang that I would have liked to have had that win. Oh yes, of course it would be nice for someone to drop that kind of cash in my lap, but I was oddly cured of my interest in gambling many, many years ago.
Now it’s true that Janet and I will sometimes play the silver dollar slot machines at the Greenbrier, with our $20 limit for the evening, but that’s all we really do. There’s something about the clang of the real silver dollars as they come out of the machine that just can’t be duplicated in the new electronic games that are so common in most of the gaming establishments. And many of you may not know that my father and I made a significant part of our living in my early twenties by supplying wooden parts for pinball machines, those shuffle bowling games that were so common in bars and restaurants and, to a lesser extent, slot machines.
Back in the day, Chicago was the headquarters for the manufacture of these type of devices and at one time Toussaint Wood Products, a business my father and I ran, was one of the largest suppliers in the world of cabinet parts for the industry. In fact, the success of that business is one of the things that led to my early success in the corporate world – things would have been much different if we didn’t have the pinball business. But we were fortunate that we had a number of accounts who counted on us to supply them with various parts used in the manufacture of gaming devices.
Earlier this summer, I even played a little nickel, dime, quarter poker with a group of men who were on a corporate retreat together. And I enjoyed it – but once again, I think $20 was my limit for the evening. It was the first time in probably 20 years that I held a hand of cards. While it was entertaining and certainly social, the desire to win just wasn’t a major part of the experience for me. The camaraderie was what made it special.
Because back when I was a teenager, in the spring of 1970 I believe, I had a good friend, Craig, who was a card player. Craig’s father had promised his a new car when he turned 18 if Craig didn’t drink or smoke before his 18th birthday. So Craig played pool and became a pretty good poker player. In those days, each of us had a cigar box filled with coins and small folding money that we brought to the games that we usually had on Friday or Saturday evenings. But one day after school, Craig asked if I wanted to play cards with him and I agreed. You win a few – then lose a few and all was well with the world until I was dealt a hand with four natural sixes – a really strong hand with nothing wild.
I was ecstatic and I couldn’t understand why Craig didn’t just fold. I bet the farm – in fact I specifically remember that I had $127 in the pot. To this day, I can’t believe that I made a bet like that. And you know what? Craig had four natural sevens – and I got beat… I remember almost being physically sick to my stomach. That was a huge amount of money for a 17 year old kid to lose. I was cured of gambling that day – never again did I play a big hand or make a large wager. And as angry as I was at the time, that $127 has saved me more thousands of dollars throughout the years than I can count. I guess you could say I was scared straight. As I look back on the situation, I can appreciate the lesson I learned and I owe Craig a debt of gratitude. I know myself well enough to know that gambling could have become a problem for me if I had continued. But for the grace of God go I…
An expensive lesson at the time turned into a life lesson that I never forgot. The verse for tonight is from a version of the Bible called the Message. It is a phrase by phrase translation of the Bible into modern English and is a favorite among younger folks and those who wish for a contemporary spin on the traditional Scripture. From Proverbs 22:26, we are told, “Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hocking your house against a lucky chance.” Truer words were never spoken.
My encouragement this evening is that God doesn’t want you to take the “easy way” and try to hit some jackpot as opposed to working for what you get. Entertainment is fine but when you gamble for the rent, that’s a problem. My prayer is that you will realize that God is the best bet you can make. Because gambling with your eternal security is something that just isn’t very smart – and you can’t win the ultimate reward – eternal life – without God at your side. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace… and Craig, once again, thank you… you have saved me a ton of heartache throughout the years. Who would have thought?