A talk by Mr. P. L. Brown given at the Romford Congregational Church Meeting on October 31st, 1951
In my report of the Annual Assembly meetings I gave details of a resolution passed at the Assembly on the subject of Gambling. I think to begin with I had better read that again. Here it is:-
"That this Assembly of the Congregational Union of England and Wales affirms its strong conviction that gambling from whatever motive or for whatever end is in irreconcilable opposition to Christian principles.
"It notes in particular that gambling destroys the integrity of Christian personality, weakens the sense of personal responsibility, prostitutes the use of money by directing it to wrong ends, involves both economic and moral loss to the community and gravely impairs the happiness and well-being of homes.
"It therefore calls in the strongest terms upon all Congregational Church members, and on all associated in the work of our Congregational Churches, not only to abstain from any such practices and to eliminate from all efforts to raise money for church purposes anything which might be understood as gambling, but also to ensure that the question of gambling is discussed in church meeting, and that young people receive adequate training in the Christian objections to the practice."
About fifteen or so years ago, when I was Captain of the 1st Romford Boys' Brigade Company, I gave a talk to the boys on this subject. I remember I gave it the title of "Are you a sportsman or a mug?" and I commenced by asking the boys to give me a definition of that word "mug."
We thrashed it out together, and this is what we arrived at:
"A person who is easily taken in, one who is an easy prey for someone smarter; the kind of person who can be persuaded in Romford Market to pay 10s. for a 'real solid gold watch' which is not worth more than a few pence. The fellow bookmaker and his touts call 'a real good sport' to his face, and 'an easy mug' behind his back. The lad who thinks it manly to drink, swear and gamble."
Not a bad definition - I hope you agree.
Some years before the war a well-known bookmaker retired and wrote a book on his life. Here is an extract from that book:
"In one single day I made as much as £5,000 - out of mugs - and I am writing to show the so-called sportsman that the odds against him are so tremendous that in the long run it is impossible for him to win. I hope that these words of mine will induce men to give the game up, as I am sure this would be a means of bringing happiness to thousands who now waste their money in a wilful way ... The odds against them are so fearful that success is next to impossible."
That is a frank confession from one inside.
Talking about odds, do you know what the real odds are against getting ten results correct in a football pool? Each match can end in one of three ways (a win for either side or a draw). The odds are therefore three to the power of ten, and if you are mathematically inclined you can work it out for yourself. The answer comes to 59,049, so the odds are 59,048 to one. Yet week after week hundreds of thousands are spending their money on equally fantastic odds.
At this stage I must comment on the argument which I daresay all of you have heard. It runs something like this:
Oh yes, I know all about the odds, but I cannot see that betting, in itself, is a sin. I cannot see anything wrong putting 2s. 6d. on a horse or a football pool. If I lose my half-crown I can afford it, and it's my own look-out."
But surely the answer is this. No act of yours or mine can stand by itself. It must be considered as part of the world in which we live. You cannot shut yourself up and isolated yourself and your actions. You are part of Society, and we are all bound together in this bundle we call life. If, therefore, you know that gambling is getting a stranglehold on the nation, ruining homes, breaking the hearts of loved ones, sending more folk to gaol or remand homes than any other crime; then you as a good citizen, as a Christian man or woman, should do all in your power to discourage, by your example, this practice which is the curse of this country.
I often think that part of the trouble is that we have our moral standards all wrong. Two of the greatest organs of publicity, the press and the cinema, specially the latter, constantly hold up before the world that wealth and luxury are desirable ends in themselves. And are not Christians compromising today on these issues? Compromising with the world and the world's moral standards; is not that why we are failing? The standards of Christ must be accepted or rejected. There is no half-way house. You are either for or against them. You cannot serve God and Mammon.
Do you know that round about one thousand million pounds is spent on gambling every year in this country? Just think of what we, as a nation, could so with that money. And if that does not shake you, what about the utter waste (in these days of man-power shortage) of the thousands of men and women employed by the gambling firms for utterly unproductive work. And if you are not concerned with the waste of money or labour, think of the degradation of national and individual character and loss of efficiency. Some firms have estimated the loss on gambling due to bad work, spoilt material, friction in shop, factory or office, as equivalent to ten per cent of their capital!
The Rt. Hon. Phillip Snowden (later Viscount Snowden) when Chancellor of the Exchequer, said "Gambling is the distinctive vice of our age. It is a national canker which must be stamped out else this country will ultimately sink to a very low level."
Do you know that the Football Association is very concerned about the growth of football pools, and would give a lot to be able to stamp it out? Why? Well here is what one member of the F.A. said about gambling. "In the forty years in which I have been associated with sport I have seen gambling corrupt every sport it touches, and I prophecy it will corrupt and ruin football if it continues."
The following is an extract from The Congregational Quarterly of a few months ago:
"The Epworth Press have just published a book entitled Gambling in English Life (6s.). It is an exhaustive survey of the practical aspects of this problem and gives an account of the efforts of Parliament to discourage and limit practices so socially pernicious. For we Christians, Christ's teaching about the stewardship of wealth is a sufficient condemnation of gambling gains as well as losses. What further guidance we need is found in the simple fact that a tree is judged by its fruit. A tree that bears much evil fruit is something less that good. Few fathers would learn with equanimity that their sons had developed a habit of gambling; and a man in any position of trust who was known to be a habitual gambler would on that account be regarded with justifiable suspicion."
And now let me say what we can do to stop it. First of all, legislation won't stop it; it will only drive it underground. You have probably heard people say that gambling is the natural impulse of the human heart and never will be eradicated. That is where they are wrong. One thing and one thing only will stop it, and when I tell you what it is you will probably laugh because it is so unexciting, so slow in operation. The "one thing" is an educated public opinion. And now I will try to prove it to you.
One hundred or more years ago open and unabashed drunkenness was the rule in all walks of life. Young men were not considered to have grown up until they had managed to get dead drunk - it was the manly thing to do. Today you seldom if ever see a drunken man. What has made the change? An educated public opinion.
What stopped the evils of Child Labour in factories and mines? What stopped duelling in this country and the continent? What stopped cock-fighting? An educated public opinion.
What killed slavery? The force of public opinion created by Wilberforce.
And gambling can go too, Public opinion can win that victory, and in that victory every man and woman here tonight can play a part. Please remember that whenever you show to others that you consider gambling is both a mug's game, a sin, and a source of crime, you are helping a little to create that public opinion.
In his Presidential address to the Congregational Union of England and Wales last May, the Rev. Howard Stanley, M.A., had this to say about gambling, and with his worlds I should like to close -
"Let the Assemblies of our people be the places where Christian comment and judgement are delivered on those social and moral issues about which the men and women of our day are making up their minds and so shaping the character of this nation. If, for example, we take a different view about gambling than do the majority of the Church Assembly, if by observation and experience we are sure that it is the greatest single social evil of our time, a cancer gnawing at the heart of the nation, an irrational and anti-social habit, a negation of the Christian principle of stewardship, let us say so, and be reported as saying so, not only in the pages of the Christian World, but in the provincial and local press, let us say so, not only in this Assembly, but nearer the homes of our people, nearer our lads' clubs and Boys' Brigades and Boy Scouts."