I love horses. Always have, although I’ve never owned one.

It may have to do with my convict heritage. Through my maternal grandmother, I can trace my ancestry to John Barber who in 1814 was sentenced to death for stealing a mare in Cambridge at the age of 24. He was ‘respited’ to NSW for 14 year, so received for his sins a free cruise to the Sydney Cove. I like to think that he was only borrowing the horse. More likely he needed it to feed and shelter his starving, shivering siblings. 

Anyway he arrived at the colony at the age of 26 on the ship “Marquis of Wellington” in 1816 and became the Muster Servant to Mr. Hassell (Thomas’ father?) from 1817 to 1820. He won his freedom in 1828 and settled at Parramatta on 60 acres with a horse and six cattle.

Through my maternal grandfather I am related to the Stable Manager at Trial Bay Prison on the NSW North Coast.

Horses, of all God’s creatures, have a beauty and power nothing short of majestic.  At full gallop they can glide like a bird and make the earth shake. It’s not by accident that man made machine power is benchmarked by the term ‘horsepower’.

Over the millennia mankind has mastered the horse for many means of personal advancement and human development. Trade and travel. Farming and fanfare. Policing and pomp. Commerce and ceremony. Economics and entertainment. War and wagering. With regard to the horse, we have certainly got our furlongs worth out of this wonder of creation.

Australia in November is hooked on horse fever. Not for the love of the horse itself. But for the race that stops the nation.

Is the Melbourne Cup just for mugs? Or to ask the question a little more seriously: is gambling in November a national necessity?

I know that I am running the risk of sounding like a joy-killing, fun-spoiling crank. But isn’t it time that as a Christian community we offered a more extensive critique of the gambling culture, one of the scourges of our society, than an occasional shot across the bow of the poker machine industry?

In two previous articles on gambling I have sought to establish:

•    Greed is the mother of gambling. Gambling is not greed’s only child and the other fruits of greed’s womb must be critiqued as vigorously as any critique of gambling; like over-indulgence, excessive consumerism, investing in companies who make large profits by exploiting the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of others, corruption, obscene disparity between wealth and poverty, indifference to suffering, to name a few.

•    Gambling, and the greed that feeds it, is the polar opposite to the virtues of trust, contentment, simplicity, stewardship, service, compassion and generosity. If greed and gambling are the problems, grace is the answer.

•    Gambling is bigger than what happens at the track and the club, or the table and the pub. White collar gambling must also be critiqued as vigorously as traditional blue collar gambling.

•    We are all guilty of greed and guilty of several of its children, including gambling. I certainly am. No-one can take the high moral ground or point a boney finger. In     this issue, like every ethical issue we approach it from the low side (“Lord have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this law”). We come carefully, gently, but with a clear mind as forgiven sinners and wounded healers.

But come we must. Societies are under siege. Families are being destroyed. Children are being groomed. Bookmakers are making a mockery of our gullibility, boredom and greedy obsessions. And we must do more than sit idly by and think that gambling is no more than a benign social convention.

Year in and year out I hear the argument that gambling is just a form of entertainment and what is the difference between spending $15 on a movie ticket or $150 on a show at the Opera House and someone spending an equivalent amount at the track or the casino? If it’s not motivated by greed, but rather the desire for entertainment and enjoyment, then how is it suspect?

Try this quick self analysis. When you are next watching a sporting event on TV and the odds are advertised by Tom Waterhouse, make an imaginary bet on one of the teams. At the end of the game, was there a slight feeling of relief if you lost your imaginary bet, or a slight feeling of disappointment if you won? If there was absolutely no twinge either way you are a stronger man than me.

Am I really to believe that the nineteen losers are as happy as the one winner as they travel home together from the track twenty or two hundred bucks poorer? Were they not all equally entertained?

The Melbourne Cup Day that I remember most clearly took place four years ago in 2009. At the time I was employed by Anglicare here in the Sydney Diocese. Our CEO at the time, Mr. Peter Kell, encouraged staff to join together in prayer at the time of the running of the race, to pray for the victims of gambling and the ministry of carers and churches seeking to help rebuild the lives of those devastated by gambling and to help them find the forgiveness and hope that Jesus offers.

So, rather than sound like a November nark, let me offer some positives so that on the day when a race stops the nation we can celebrate the grace that builds the nations:

•    During the running of the race, pause and pray in the way I was encouraged to in 2009. Your work or home context will determine how you do this. Perhaps quietly at your desk or under your breath if you are watching the race with your colleagues at the office Melbourne Cup party or pray with a few Christian colleagues in your section.

•    Consider the difference we could make if we diverted gambling income into generating best development practices among poverty stricken communities across Australia and throughout the world.

•    Make a generous gift to your trusted aid and development agency like Anglicare (who provide specialised counseling for gambling addictions) or Anglican Aid whose partner in Gambella in Ethiopia is saving the lives of thousands of children through a simple and effective water and sanitation health program.

Remember that gambling stops a nation but grace builds the nations.







Feature photo: Tim Bayman