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What does the Bible Say About Gambling?

by Timothy S. Warren on July 7, 2006 in Articles

Just say the word “gambling,” and I see…not green, not red, not black or white, but gray.

Since the Bible neither commands nor explicitly prohibits gambling, Christians must ask, “Will gambling help or harm me, others, or the cause of Christ?”

What Is Gambling?
To gamble means to risk something of value on events whose outcome is uncertain in the hope of obtaining something better. The primary characteristic of gambling is artificial risk. Gamblers take on an unnatural hazard to gain by chance. A second characteristic of gambling is that winning always comes at the expense of someone else. Somebody has to pay. Gamblers say, “Let it be the other guy.” Third, gambling seeks an excessive reward. For a relatively minor investment, the gambler hopes to profit in a major way. This attitude pervades our age of entitlement. Fourth, gambling fosters independence. Individual payoffs do not provide a by-product for social betterment. A winner may easily rationalize, “Now that I’m endowed, I can take care of myself…without having to bother with God or others.”

What Is Not Gambling?
Gambling comes in many forms, including slot machines, casinos, lotteries, pari-mutuel racing, sports, cards, raffles, and bingo, to name the prominent legal methods. Since most everything we do has an element of risk, many argue that life is a gamble. So, what is not gambling?

Insurance involves sharing life’s inevitable risks. People get sick, have accidents, and die. Insurance shares the liability of life’s normal certainties. Wise investing, which demands planning, skill, time, energy, determination, and capital is not gambling. Casting lots was practiced in both the Old and New Testaments. Believers cast lots to discern God’s will. Unbelievers cast lots for good or evil. Since the goal was not winning in an unnatural risk situation, but making a practical decision, casting lots was not a gamble.

What Motivates Gambling?
Gambling may be motivated by a desire for harmless recreation. Some people gamble because they enjoy the game itself. Gambling, especially for “small stakes,” may simply be a part of the game. Gambling may be motivated by escape. The thrill of risk demands such levels of intensity that other issues are set aside. Gambling can be merely a way to get away from it all for awhile.

Some people may gamble because of the companionship it offers. Whether the race track or the bingo parlor, the setting for some gambling is social. Gambling provides a place for getting together with friends. Gambling may be motivated by greed. A payoff can enrich the gambler in a way work, saving, and investing never can. The player could get something for relatively nothing. Some, if not most, gamble for the money. Gambling may be motivated by addiction. The rush of risk sends some gamblers into an ecstasy nothing else can match. When addiction sets in, the gambler must feed the desire for more and greater rushes.

You May Be Able to Participate...
If you consider gambling a form of entertainment similar to gardening, fishing, watching baseball, or attending a concert, then you might be able to participate. If you can steward a wager expecting to lose, enjoying the game itself, then gambling might be a “safe” liberty for you.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

If you don’t consider gambling a form of giving, then gambling might not become a problem. Some people think of gambling as “giving” to their favorite charity. “I’ll buy this $2 raffle ticket with a chance to win a car, but I’m really just doing it to support the cause. In fact, if I win, I’ll donate the car back to the cause.” That attitude might not be a problem. Still, it may be better to make an outright donation than to confuse gambling with giving.

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

If you don’t view gambling as an investment strategy, then you might be able to take part. Some people, however, suppose that buying a lottery ticket is a smart investment program. The chances of that person becoming a millionaire would be much better if he or she invested $10 a week over 40 years.

“Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov. 13:11).

If you do not consider gambling a form of earning, then you might be free to indulge. Some people, however, dream of making money gambling. Cash is a necessity and the quickest, easiest way to get extra money is to win it. The greed that drives gambling should not be confused with working for one’s wages.

“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15).

If you can gamble without becoming addicted, it might not be a sin for you. Some people can pay out a provident amount, perhaps weekly or yearly, and stop at that. Others can’t stop once they start. It takes great wisdom to discern whether or not to play at a potentially addictive behavior.

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28).

If you can gamble without encouraging a brother or sister in Christ to participate in gambling against their conscience or to become addicted, then you might be free to gamble. The basic issue of Christian liberty is, “Can I participate in this activity to the glory of God because I am not harming, but rather, helping myself, my weaker brothers and sisters in Christ, and the cause of Christ in this world?”

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13).

A Final Word
Before God, you have the final word on whether or not you will gamble. I have decided that, for me, the risk is not worth the potential harm. I have taken Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy personally: “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9–10).

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