Las Vegas-based PlayStudios may be hoping to capture the attention of recreational slot players with its recently released MyVegas Slots app for iPhone and Android, but they’ve got competition in that market. A search in the Android app store returns dozens of free slot apps, ranging from Fruit Cocktail Slots to Cute Puppy Slot Machine HD. But MyVegas’ most unexpected competition might come from an app themed around the most popular book in the world.
Yes, there really are Bible-themed virtual slots available on your mobile device. App-maker Top Free Games—whose library is split between gambling games like video poker and blackjack and public-domain works like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Kama Sutra and the Holy Bible—apparently decided to distill its portfolio into Bible Slots.
Is this Christian outreach or cynical profiteering off well-known public domain intellectual property? Top Free did not respond to an interview request, but judging from its portfolio, this is a company mostly focused on making low-cost games for mobile devices, not digital evangelism.
Indeed, playing Bible Slots feels a bit incongruous, like reading a Chick Tract—that’s a cartoon gospel tale, kids—in a strip club. Opening the app, a modestly dressed (robes from head to foot) but still shapely Biblical maiden welcomes you. You are then presented with a row of virtual slot machines, ranging from the expected “Adam and Eve,” “Noah and the Ark,” and “Samson and Delilah” (hey, if it’s in Jubilee!, it’s fair game for a slot machine) to more esoteric ones like “Book of Ezekiel” (depicted through the valley of dry bones, interlocking wheels and a throne) and “End of Days” (it’s going to be by fire, flood and earthquake, mostly).
Reviewers have mixed feelings. “Love this game … so much full with great winnings,” writes Virginia Willis. Yet the lack of big jackpots leaves others cold. “Need to be able to hit bonus more often and win. Worse than casino,” says Therese Cooper. As with any slot machine, big wins are possible, but steady losses are common, and those who chase big jackpots will likely find themselves needing to supplement their virtual bankroll with more coins—available for real money, as with most “free” apps, which is how an app developer can make money giving away apps.
One reviewer asks a more important question: “Speechless … and amazed. How does this help a Christian’s life?” wonders Brent P., whose one-star rating presumably gives a negative answer to that question.
Dr. Kurt Fredrickson, associate dean of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry Program, is inclined to agree.
“The game annoyed me at every level,” he says. “If you pull the Bible stories out of context, it cheapens them. Take the Jonah and the Whale slot—it’s just images of a whale and ships. There’s so much more to Jonah than that.”
Fredrickson acknowledges that there is a “whole continuum of thought” on the subject of gambling within the Protestant Evangelical world, from those who insist on absolute prohibition to those who tolerate it in moderation while remaining on guard for addiction and other problems. But he sees Bible Slots as having zero evangelical value, and even some danger.
“There’s nothing really biblical about it,” Fredrickson says. “The insidious part is it might seem to certain people that if this looks Christian, it must be OK. But it’s just gambling.”
We’ve gotten used to seeing everyone from Willy Wonka to Capt. Kirk on slot machines, a symbol of the public’s growing ease with gambling. Certainly, it seems that there is very little that is off limits. Boyd Gaming’s just-unveiled Penny Lane boasts as its spokesman a sunglass-wearing Abraham Lincoln: the Great Emancipator as a slot pitchman.
But maybe some lines shouldn’t be crossed. The Walt Disney Co. certainly thinks so, declaring that it will not renew slot licenses for its Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm properties. Some would argue that the disappearance of Han and Luke is just a sortie in Disney’s struggle to muzzle gambling expansion in Florida, not a sign of a cultural shift, but nevertheless it’s happening.
Whatever its ultimate meaning, Bible Slots shows that, when it comes to “free” slots, it’s a new world, where the established rules don’t always apply—a cautionary note, at the very least, for those hinging gambling’s future on a seamless transition to the next generation.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.