The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, February 13, 2023

It’s Monday, February 13th, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What the Great Spectacle Shows: A Look at What Super Bowl LVII Reveals About Our Culture

Well, Super Bowl LXII is now one for the record books, and those books will show that the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LXII. The game took place in a stadium, of course, in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, and it was a big deal as the Super Bowl always is a big deal. Super Bowl number one was 1967. It was the brainchild of the then leader commissioner of the NFL, known as Pete Rozelle. Pete Rozelle saw a great opportunity for this titanic game between the two conferences in the National Football League. And by the time the Super Bowl was actually held, it indeed turned out to be a Super Bowl with tens of millions of viewers.

Pete Rozelle in the NFL had hit the jackpot and Americans had basically absorbed the Super Bowl as an ongoing annual event very much a part of American culture. But that also means from a worldview perspective, that when you look at the Super Bowl, you are looking at least to some extent, at how America thinks of itself. And that ought to set us to some thinking. It is estimated that over 100 million Americans were involved in some kind of activity related to the Super Bowl. There were Super Bowl parties and of course, super Super Bowl parties. There were all kinds of festivities. Americans watched and lots of American school kids got to stay up to see the Super Bowl, or at least that’s the rumor.

And you also had the fact, that much of the last week was basically one long and frankly at points, irritating buildup to the big game. Now as you’re looking at the Super Bowl, you need to recognize, when you have a cultural event like this, it represents so many things at once. First of all, it is a commercial opportunity. The big business around football is big enough. Add the Super Bowl and it simply becomes staggering, in terms of the economic consequences. By the time Super Bowl week came, the lowest price tickets available online were about $3,863 and it just went up with every tick of the clock thereafter. But the big money is not only big television and big viewership, of course, it’s advertising. But not only that, it’s not just the advertising at the Super Bowl. More about that in just a moment.

It is also about all the Super Bowl related advertising for everything from potato chips to, well, let’s just talk about beverages. Because when it comes to the NFL and when it comes to the Super Bowl, there’s a lot of alcohol flowing and that turns out also to be a part of the story for Super Bowl LXII in a different way. And that is because in recent years, the singular indeed often only advertiser, in terms of beer for the Super Bowl was Anheuser-Busch in one way or another, but this year was different. Anheuser-Busch advertised, but it wasn’t the only advertiser. But the role of beer advertising in the Super Bowl tells us a great deal about American culture. Yes, also about aspirational culture. That’s something to watch, and about how the advertisers directed themselves to Americans.

One 30 second television ad for this year’s game cost $7 million, so that’s $14 million a minute for that advertising. It’s just another reminder that every single day, there is an ongoing battle for American eyeballs, which means also for American attention and for consumer interest. And when it comes to something like the Super Bowl, it’s quantified, you can easily know exactly how much the advertiser’s paid and that’s just for the airtime, that doesn’t have to do even with the cost of the production. And given so many of those advertisements, and they’ll be talked about for a while, there were massive production and talent costs as well. I don’t want to leave the issue of alcohol because I think anyone looking at the Super Bowl was compared with other advertising and other times, would see the alcohol centric nature of the Super Bowl to be one signal.

The fact this country has something of a problem. Even the New York Times noticed it with Laura Kelly writing that, if you look at Super Bowl LXII, it represented a “flood of beer and alcohol ads.” Advertising’s a part of the story and as we see something like an x-ray, a very revealing part of the story. It’s not all of the story, of course. You did have the advertising, you also have the entertainment. And in particular, this wasn’t so much the case in 1967, a Super Bowl I, but now if you have the Super Bowl, you have to have a titanic entertainment event. And those of course, have often attracted not only attention, but scandal. It’s going to be interesting to see over time how America responds one way or another to Rihanna’s performance in Super Bowl LXII.

Now, we talked recently about events that took place at the Grammy’s, indeed open devil worship or satanic worship. It wasn’t quite that, but it also had various themes that quite frankly, were overtly sexual and absolutely crude in moral terms. But you’re also looking at the fact that evidently, those who were putting on Super Bowl LXII and those who orchestrated that show, think that that is what something like 100 million Americans want to see. And in worldview perspective, that’s the most important issue here. That was entertainment. Entertainment tells us a great deal about ourselves, as does advertising. What we consider interesting, fascinating, entertaining, pleasing, that tells us a great deal about our culture.

But just to look at what we’re facing here. If you look just at the performance at the Super Bowl halftime entertainment, Super Bowl LXII, 2023, I think virtually anyone from any era of human history seeing that, would recognize it first of all, as a spectacle. That is to say it is hard to turn away from those elevated platforms of people on them, the light, the driving music and all the rest. But at the same time, it was also something that would be recognized as decadence in virtually any period of world history. Now, it’s interesting here for American Christians to understand that the word decadence isn’t the worst word that has been leveled against a cultural actuality. Decadence is rather a long-term word that refers to the decline of a culture and the fact that that culture is cutting itself off from the founding principles that gave it birth.

Decadence is similar to decline. It speaks of not only cultural realities, but the moral foundation beneath it. As long as you’re looking at this, you recognize at times, decadence in decline are really represented by just say one further step in some direction, separated from the founding principles of the culture or the civilization. And I think by any measure, that’s what we’re seeing year-by-year. I don’t think there’s anyone following this honestly, who believes that next year’s Super Bowl entertainment will be say less decadent than this year. Even as this year represented a further decay as you’re thinking about the long-term pattern of recent years. A couple of other big issues that are presented by the Super Bowl, and I’m not the one to give you athletic commentary here.

I’m giving you moral and worldview analysis and let’s just consider this for a moment. One issue, this isn’t the major issue, but it was very, very interesting and opinion piece was written at the Washington Post about some of those who were buying Super Bowl ads and that included hospitals. Now, one of the interesting questions here is, why would a hospital advertise itself? And furthermore, when it comes to many of the hospitals that are doing advertising, either in this kind of context or another, at the same time they’re complaining that they’re running out of money. Farzon Nahvi is identified as an emergency medicine physician, he’s author of the book Code Gray: Life, Death, and Uncertainty in the ER.

And he points out that at least some of the hospitals, including some in New York, they were advertising for presumably additional customers including to their emergency room, when right now, they’re also saying they can’t handle, and they’re giving performance results like they can’t handle the number of patients they have in the ER now. It tells us something about the fact that when it comes to many hospitals, they’re operating on the basis of an economy in a business model that patients really wouldn’t even suspect. And as you’re looking even at hospitals with historic names indicating religious bodies or even something that calls itself nonprofit, that doesn’t mean they are operating in terms of how they do their business, advertise and charge exactly like they are nonprofits.

It’s interesting to see how this doctor concludes his article. He says this, “So when people see any TV commercial or billboard highlighting a hospital system’s quality of care, then walk into that same hospital system’s emergency room, only defined it dangerously overcrowded and understaffed. It is worth connecting the dots. Imagine how many lives would be saved, if only we were to take the bold step of demanding that our healthcare dollars be spent on actual healthcare.”

Part II

Incentivizing Vice: One of the Many Problems of Sports Gambling

But as we conclude thinking about the Super Bowl LXII in 2023, I want us to think about another huge moral issue. They got some attention, but not nearly enough attention and that is legalized sports gambling.

Sports betting in the United States, in particular in this case about the Super Bowl, but you could extend it to everything from college sports to just about every professional sport imaginable. And you’ll notice that this is all of a sudden landed, at least it should have landed in our cultural and moral conversation in a way different from times past. A little background to that development should be of interest to us. After scandals in the early years of the 20th century, most professional sports leagues and certainly intercollegiate athletic organizations, sought to isolate their sport and their athletes, their teams from any kind of gambling. They did not want to encourage gambling. Indeed, they often worked with legislators and law enforcement officials to make it illegal.

Because the understanding was after those scandals in the early 20th century, and by the way, there have been scandals even more recently, but widespread during the opening decades of the 20th century. The big moral conclusion reached by just about every major authority was sport corrupts and distorts athletics. As a matter of fact, this is something that has been an ongoing problem about all kinds of human endeavors and organized sport just offers a very clear opportunity for it. For example, what if a pitcher were to be financially incentivized to lose a game, to throw a game as it is called, in order for the fact that even though his team might have been significantly seen as in the advantage, the stronger team, that would mean that someone who bet for the other team would gain tremendously, in terms of the gambling proceeds.

And it would all come down to something that was fraud. Once there is the question of, why an athlete did something or does something, and you have to ask the question, is it because of some unseen financial advantage? Well, the integrity of sport just goes out the window. Collegiate sporting officials and college leaders, they’ve been particularly concerned about this because of the age of the players, the vulnerability to this kind of pressure and the fact that it is well documented, that when it comes to very big teams with very much at stake, very big fans have been known to do very big bad things. But it is interesting to note that, as of just a few years ago, legalized betting was limited to two locations in the United States, to Las Vegas and also to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Now how did those two locations come to have that kind of political exception from the generalized rules against organized sports betting? Well, it had to do first of all, with the rise of Las Vegas. Fascinating story in American history, especially in the early decades of the 20th century and the midpoint of the century, when a city in the middle of the desert emerged. And by the way, we now know that a great deal of the driving energy was, now hold for it, organized crime. It was really established as an entertainment and gambling mecca. Statewide, Nevada decided to go with that business and to go with that reputation, instead trying to present regulated gambling as a consumer product. And of course, you know the history of Las Vegas enough to know that, as you say, Las Vegas, just about everyone is thinking of some form of gambling.

But you also have to talk about Atlantic City, New Jersey. And there, you’re talking about an East Coast phenomenon. And it came later, at least in terms of legalized gambling, it didn’t come later in terms of gambling. The East Coast in particular, in the 19th and 20th centuries has been a mecca for illegal gambling. And also as you’re talking about organized crime, well let’s just say it wasn’t far from the formation and the organization and the operation of organized gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey either. But then you ask, what exactly was the federal legal basis for all of this? And the main answer doesn’t go back as far as you might think. It goes back to a law signed into effect by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, after it was passed by Congress. That bill was known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

So just think about the legislation. It’s supposedly to protect sport, to protect sport from what? The corrupting influence of gambling. It was, as I say, passed by Congress, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, Bush 41 in 1992. It became known as PASPA, P-A-S-P-A, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It basically gave exceptions to Nevada, in terms of Las Vegas in particular, but Nevada as a state and then to Atlantic City, New Jersey, it gave those states an unusual privilege to run organized gambling. And by the way, to benefit in terms of state taxation of those enterprises, but it forbade the other 48 states from any similar involvement.

Now, just about everyone knew at the time, that would eventually be ruled unconstitutional and that ruling by the Supreme Court, it was a 72 ruling came in 2018 in a case known as Murphy versus NCAA. Some of the governors of other states referred to it as the Protect Nevada’s Gambling System bill. But nonetheless, it extended to Nevada as a state and also to some considerable degree, to New Jersey, the right to profit by organized gambling. And it prohibited the other states from joining in the same enterprise. That as was successfully argued, was a violation of constitutional order. The Supreme Court eventually turned to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for its principle, in what is known the anti-commandeering principle.

That anti-commandeering principle basically says that the federal government can’t play favorites when it comes to states, allowing economic activity in one state, it would not allow in another. Now that just makes sense. If you have 50 states and you have equality under the law, that isn’t going to work. But it’s notable to see what the Supreme Court didn’t do. It didn’t declare nationwide a right to gambling. It didn’t say that Nevada and by extension, New Jersey in terms of Atlantic City, were on justifiable legal grounds. It simply said, you can’t as a federal government treat the 50 states differently. You can’t privilege two states and in particular, one central state, Nevada, at the expense of the other states. And so, that through open the issue of gambling.

And let’s just fast forward, that was 2018. You’re talking five years later and you’re talking about organized sports gambling as a very, very big thing. Right now, 33 states and the District of Columbia have some form of organized legal sports betting. And it is very big business, multiple billions of dollars a year. Now, over the course of the last several years, I’ve been deeply involved in trying to limit, prohibit and to restrict gambling, legalize gambling. When it comes to illegal gambling, that’s a matter for law enforcement. When it comes to deciding what gambling should be legal, well that’s a matter for legislators and for governors and for presidents. It’s a matter of government responsibility.

But as you’re looking at this, you need to recognize that there’s a principle very evident. And that is, that if a state such as Nevada, has the opportunity to gain revenue for the state budget by means of taxing legalized gambling, and that is very big business and it’s sold to the states in terms of very big income, then the other states will demand to have it as well. And before long, you’ve got casinos all over the place. The same thing happened in the last quarter of the 20th century when it came to state lotteries. You had some states organized lotteries and they said of course, in a high-minded fashion, “We’re going to restrict the state income from lotteries to support for higher education and making higher education more accessible for citizens in the state.”

And you know what? That bought off voters in states that had been morally conservative and said they were and thought they were against gambling, until all of a sudden, it turned out it might help send Junior to college. When all of a sudden when it came to the lottery, it appeared to be a victimless situation. But we know when it comes to gambling, there are no victimless crimes. And when it comes to gambling to say the lottery, you’re looking at the disproportionate predatory behavior among those least able to spend and lose that kind of money on the vain hope of gain. It’s not by accident that when you look at authorized lottery sales in terms of locations, they are disproportionately not in the wealthy portion of town, but in the less wealthy portions of town.

It is also true that when you’re looking at gambling, you are looking at incentivizing vice. Now, I want to be clear, it is possible, at least theoretically, to imagine that people can game. And by the way, it’s called gaming, a way of euphemizing it, of dressing it up in many situations. It is possible that there might be someone with enough money that he or she could gamble some things away, in terms of a rather expensive game. But still, that’s not the way it seems to work. It seems to work, if you look at organizations such as Gambling Anonymous, it tends to work in a predatory way and it tends to have a pernicious effect. Indeed, it tends to result in something like addictive behavior.

And it also is demonstrated in the fact, that where you see concentrations of gambling, whether it be casinos or lotteries or slot machines or anything else, you see concentric circles of vice and sin surrounding it in a concentrated form.

Part III

You Will Know It By Its Fruit: The Devastation Left in the Wake of the Gambling Industry

Barton Swaim of the Wall Street Journal, writing in the paper’s Houses of Worship column, asked the question in bold print in the headline, “Would Jesus bet on the Super Bowl?” By the way, he says that it is 36 states that now have legalized gambling, plus the District of Columbia. We are talking about a majority of the states. And by the way, as you think about those states that are still holdouts, you recognize there is vast political pressure on those states to join the tidal wave of acceptance and of tax money, it is promised when it comes to legalized gambling.

By the way, the pathologies will surely come with it. Barton Swaim actually gets to asking the theological or the moral question. He says this, “Traditions rooted in the Jewish and Christian scriptures have tended to say it’s a bad thing,” meaning gambling, “but the textual warnings against it are less than explicit. Some Christian moralists have claimed that gambling is wrong because it’s an attempt to get something for nothing.” He says, “I sympathize with that line of thought. Much of the western world in recent decades has come to assume that wealth should be free for the taking and that work toiling for money is a mostly unhealthy activity best avoided.” But he goes on to say, “But it can’t be right that getting something for nothing is always wrong.”

He points out an inheritance and other things. But here’s the point. I think there’s a stronger argument that is available in the Christian tradition, in the biblical tradition, even in the preaching of the prophets. But even before you get to the prophets, it’s grounded in creation where we are given the dominion order to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and also, the order to take dominion of the earth, to till the soil, to work. And there is the validation of work, there is no kind of validation of getting something for nothing. Much less putting your hard earned income and your wealth at risk, your family security at risk, simply for the vain hope that somehow you might hit the jackpot.

As you look at the profits, there is a great deal of attention to just an unjust economic structures. And one of the principles to watch is that just as opposed to unjust economic structures, reward rightly the one who does the work and also rewards rightly, the one who invests funds rather than wasting them. The Old Testament is very clear about injustice. It’s also very clear about prof legacy or wasting what you have earned, especially at the risk of your family and community. Barton Swaim later in his article, gets to a really serious point when he writes, “Most forms of gambling, it’s fair to say, manifest a desire for money so inordinate, that one is willing to take stupid risks to get more of it.”

Well, that certainly is the case. And by the way, sometimes people will say, “Well, isn’t investing in the stock market or investing in some kind of other commodity, isn’t that just like gambling?” And the answer is, well no. Because the difference between investing and gambling, is that investing by definition, is supposed to represent an actual value. You’re planning on, hoping for that value to increase, but it’s something inherently of value. It’s a business, it’s a business model, it’s a business strategy. It’s an industrial firm, it’s a factory, it’s a set of employees. That’s to say it can be possible that people can gamble with anything, and that’s something that’s evidence by the way, rather creatively throughout human history.

But the fact is, that investing should not be the same thing as gambling. And that’s one of the reasons why one of the responsibilities of an ethical system of markets is to do everything to disincentivize and if possible, to prevent what is basically gambling in the guise of investing. One of the issues about gambling is just the moral truth that we shall know it by its fruit, so to speak. If you go to any major center of gambling and then look around, what you see is not abundant human happiness. But what you see is an infrastructure, and as I said, concentric circles of the devastation that is brought to many cases and certainly depression and harm brought in others.

But it’s also true that just deploying the wisdom even of the ancient Greeks, you asked the question, would this bring long-term happiness and long-term satisfaction? And that’s something that’s really sad because we all know that there are people who are buying lottery tickets and engaged in other forms of gambling. But I think the lottery tickets and especially the big combined lottery contest, that’s an opportunity for a lot of people to think, “My life would just be infinitely better. It would be infinitely more satisfying, if only…. I know the odds aren’t good, in fact, the odds are so ridiculous, it’s not worth even thinking about it.” But nonetheless, people do think about it. They get in line and they buy those lottery tickets because they have some idea that if they do win, it will absolutely transform their lives.

Just even taking that argument at face value, we simply have to understand there’s an unavoidable moral equation, and that comes down to this. How many people have lives that are damaged, in some cases, severely damaged, irreparably damaged, even devastatingly damaged in order for someone to say, “Hey, I just won the lottery”? One last thing to remember when it comes to gambling is by definition, by definition, the house always wins. And when it comes to legalized gambling and state organized gambling, just remember sadly enough, that means that the state, the government that is supposed to serve the people, actually becomes the house that always wins.

Finally, as you think about evidence of our increasingly secularized age, increasingly distant from even apparently unconsciously, unselfconsciously distanced from biblical and Christian roots, well there’s one central bit of evidence, irrefutable evidence in the form of gambling. And now as we know, billions upon billions involved in sports gambling, sports betting. And here’s the thing, we do know. We can’t say we don’t know how this is going to work out.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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