What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
The truth about gambling is that it goes against the Bible’s standards of righteous behavior — “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…nor anything that is thy neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).
Gambling is often the result of coveting more wealth or items, which the Book of Luke warns about when it says, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
Avoid covetous thoughts and actions, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and instead, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (1 Timothy 6:10 and Hebrews 13:5).
Gambling! Is it an innocent pastime, a way to fund education and help our community, an extra source of income? Or is it something with far-reaching consequences? Is it merely a recreational activity, or a serious moral problem? Some people think gambling is acceptable to God and some think it’s wrong. People have gone to the Scriptures seeking answers, but they say, “I can’t find a single verse that addresses the to pic.” It is true that there is no verse in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not play Blackjack,” but it is not the case that the Bible does not address gambling. The Bible does indeed teach that gambling is wrong. Let’s look at several principles that deal with the issue, because arguments for gambling are very weak. People say, “Gambling is wrong because the Bible teaches us that we are to work for our money.”
That is true. We are to work and make a living, but if that argument was taken at face value, giving and receiving gifts would be sinful. It would also be sinful for Christians to assist the poor and for the poor to accept help from the church. Someone might also say, “Gambling is wrong because of the risk factor.” That is not true. Risk in and of itself is not wrong. Life is a risk. When a man gets into his car to go to work, he is taking a risk. Being a Christian is a risk. That was especially so in the first century. In Matthew 25, the man with one talent was condemned because he wouldn’t take a risk. When a farmer plants his crops, he is taking a risk. When a man buys stock, he is taking a risk. So we can easily see that the risk factor alone is not that which makes something sinful. As Christians, we have to be very careful about our arguments. Truth suffers when we make weak or inadequate arguments. Let’s begin with the definition of gambling. What are we talking about? There are three basic elements of gambling: (1) An uncertain, arbitrary event; (2) the wager, something of value, such as money, that is deliberately chanced on a particular outcome; and (3) a winner and a loser. The winner is financially benefited by the direct loss of someone else. When all three factors merge, the result is gambling.
BIBLICAL REASONING FOR WHY GAMBLING IS WRONG
Reason #1: COVETOUSNESS
What motivates people to gamble? Think about that for a minute. Two things immediately come to mind: greed and covetousness. Under the law of Moses, one of the Ten Commandments was, “Thou shalt not covet.” That means don’t lust after, long for, or desire something that belongs to somebody else. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” What about his money lying on the table? How does one sit around the table and gamble over a poker game without violating this principle? Notice that this principle also applies to the New Law under which we live. In Luke 12:15 Jesus said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Why is gambling wrong? Because of what motivates man to do it.
Reason #2: IT PREYS ON THE WEAKNESS OF OTHERS
Christian principles are just the opposite of this. Christian principles teach, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all…” (Galatians 6:10). That means helping those in need, not taking their money. Biblical principles teach us to help the poor and feed the hungry. Gambling steals from the poor and robs the hungry. The busiest day in Atlantic City casinos is the day after welfare checks hit the mailboxes. People who can’t afford to lose their money are in the casinos, hoping to strike it rich. A gambler may win at the loss of one who can least afford to lose. A disproportionate number of people who play the lottery are the very poor. They take food out of their children’s mouths in hopes of winning the lottery. In fact, one study found that
the poor bet approximately three times the amount wagered by persons in middle- and upperincome areas. Another study concluded that the lotteries in Connecticut and Massachusetts were equivalent to a state sales tax of over 60 percent on lowerincome groups. Gambling preys on the weaknesses of others. It profits at the pain of others. It is exactly the opposite of what Christianity teaches.
Reason #3: THE FRUIT TEST
In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus Christ laid down a test by which every activity or philosophy could be measured. He said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good
tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” This passage was spoken about false teachers, but the principle is certainly true with regard to activities in life. Let’s ask this question: “What kind of fruit does gambling produce?” When legalized gambling arrives in a new community, does it raise the moral standards of that community? Does it help to lessen the hardships of families in that area? No, it does just the opposite. Many times, if you drive into a state with legalized gambling—whether it be a lottery or a casino-filled strip—you can see the faces of ten-million-dollar winners smiling brightly on roadside billboards.
You might think, “That’s a good thing!” But reality is vastly different than what the brightly smiling winners portray. Gambling does not pass the fruit test. Eight months after casinos opened in Gulfport, Mississippi, the Gulfport Police Department noted the following: murder increased by 75 percent; rape increased by 200 percent; robbery increased by 311 percent; assaults increased by 64 percent; burglary increased by 100 percent; vehicle theft increased by 160 percent. Only three years after casinos arrived, Atlantic City shot from fiftieth to first in per-capita crime. And what about Las Vegas, which is probably the gambling capital of the United States?
Some statistical studies show that Nevada ranks first in suicide, first in divorce, first in high school dropouts, first in homicide against women, first in gambling addictions, third in bankruptcies, third in abortion, fourth in rape, fourth in out-of-wedlock births, fourth in alcohol-related deaths, fifth in crime, sixth in the number of prisoners locked up, and last in voter participation.Someone might say, “Well, that may not all be due to gambling. They have prostitution and drinking, and other things that may be contributing factors.” That isn’t to be doubted, but isn’t it interesting how these things go together? These statistics show a completely different billboard from the one mentioned a moment ago. It is easy to see how gambling fails the fruit test!
Reason #4: PROVERBS 13:11
One thing people sometimes say is there aren’t any verses in the Bible dealing with gambling, but there’s a very interesting verse in Proverbs 13:11. The King James renders it: “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.” The word vanity here means “emptiness, nothingness.” Does wealth gotten by emptiness sound like gambling? The English Standard Version says, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle.” But the footnote reads, “wealth gained by fraud.” This too sounds like gambling. Another translation says, “Wealth gotten
from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows.” Still another translation says, “Wealth from gambling quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows.” There are principles in this particular verse which directly reflect on gambling in a negative way.
Reason #5: THE ADDICTION OF GAMBLING
There should be no doubts about gambling being addictive. When people win at gambling, they want to win again. They want more. Their greed and covetousness often spiral out of control until it takes over their lives. When people lose at gambling, they want to win back what they have lost. It’s addictive! The Nevada Observer references one very interesting piece of information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It refers to gambling as being recession proof. In other words, people gamble even when they can’t afford it. Gambling is addictive. So many people have fallen prey to the gambling addiction that we have organizations in the United States, such as Gambler’s Anonymous, to help addicts deal with their problem. One Texas preacher stated that on the back of lottery tickets, there was a phone number for the gambler’s help line. I don’t know if that is currently true, but isn’t it interesting? That preacher called and requested information.
According to the information he received, the biggest gambling problem in Texas was the lottery. It led with 73 percent. In the Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson cites one study revealing that 43 percent of those who gamble have a tendency toward compulsion that results in their spending more money than they can afford. Some years ago, an online article that referenced the Dallas Times Herald, told of a pawn shop owner who had patrons who sold him their artificial limbs. In one case, a glass eye, in another case, gold teeth pulled out with pliers and hocked for money with which to gamble. Now that is addiction! In 1 Corinthians 6:12 the apostle Paul wrote, “I will not be brought under the power of any.” What he means by that is, “I will not engage in anything that might get such a grip on me that I can’t easily stop when I want to.” That, however, is the nature of gambling.
Reason #6: POOR STEWARDSHIP
Perhaps one of the most obvious problems with gambling is poor stewardship. In Matthew 25 we read the parable of the talents. We often use that parable to teach that we ought to use
our talents in service to God, and that is not a misuse. But the word talent in this passage refers to a unit of money, just like we might use the term dollar. Some people think this is specifically a parable dealing with the stewardship of our money. Whether that is the specific point or not, it certainly has application. The point of that parable is that God expects us to be good stewards of the money (or whatever blessings) we possess. The man with one talent was not a good steward. How does gambling relate to stewardship? Let’s talk statistics for a moment.
The odds of winning the lottery depend on where one plays. The odds can vary from 18 million to 1 all the way to 120 million to 1. There is not a good chance either way. The odds of being struck by lightning are 2.65 million to 1. On the high side, a person is 45 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than to win the lottery. They are 120 times more likely to die from flesh-eating bacteria than to win the lottery. The chances of an individual playing golf with three friends and two of them getting a hole-in-one in the same hole are better than winning the lottery. A person is 1,200 times more likely to die from a snake bite or bee sting than to win the lottery. If you drive 10 miles to purchase a lottery ticket, you are 20 times more likely to be killed in a car accident along the way than to win the jackpot. Two of the biggest lottery problems are Powerball and Mega Millions. For Powerball, the odds of winning the jackpot with any given ticket are 1 in 146,107,962. For Mega Millions, the odds are 1 in 175,711,536. The odds of winning either of these are essentially zero. What if your financial manager was sinking a certain portion of your retirement funds into a fund that had a 1 in 175 million—a virtual zero chance!—chance of being successful? How long would it take for you to fire him? The lottery is sinful because the Lord holds us accountable for our stewardship. One man described the lottery as a tax on people who won’t do the math. By that he meant that only people who don’t understand the odds play the lottery.
Reason #7: THE INFLUENCE PRINCIPLE
Christians need to get a grip on this one. Even worldly people view gambling as a vice. It is an “adult activity.” In South Carolina, the law states that a person must be 18 years of age to
purchase a lottery ticket. Everyone has seen the commercials, “What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” They show gambling, alcohol, and other sinful activities. There is a reason Las Vegas is called Sin City, and gambling is a big part of it. A Christian who plays the lottery is devastating his influence. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul wrote, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Paul was so concerned about his influence that he said he would never again do something if it caused a problem, even something lawful, much less anything that violates Christian principles (such as gambling). James 1:27 says that pure, undefiled religion includes keeping yourself unspotted from the world. An old proverb goes like this: “In a bet there is a fool and a thief.” Neither would do well for one’s reputation.
OBJECTIONS MADE IN DEFENSE OF GAMBLING
Certainly, we all know that despite all of the problems with gambling, there are still folks who will make arguments in defense of it. One of those arguments is, “There’s not a verse in the Bible that says not to.” We have already mentioned this. There is not a verse that specifically says, “Thou shalt not play Blackjack,” but there are many verses that condemn it in principle, and Proverbs 13:11 does mention it. Another argument made is, “Well, all of life is a risk!” But again, gambling is not wrong because of the risk. Someone might bet on something that is a surefire win, but it’s still sinful.
Thirdly, some would say, “Gambling is really no different than investing in the stock market.” But that’s not true because the stock market is not an artificial risk. You profit or lose based on the economic performance of a company. In the stock market, you don’t seek to gain at the direct loss of others. In economic gain, all profit is made by the exchange of goods and services. In the stock market, legitimate exchanges take place. Your money goes to work. Profiting from letting someone else use your money is not a sin, but an honest, economic principle (Matthew 25:14-30).
Fourthly, sometimes people will argue, “Good comes from it.” This is the lie that so many states have been told by politicians when they were trying to legalize gambling. Lies like “We’ll use
it for education” and “It’s good for the economy” are favorites of the devil. He uses them in many areas of life. Abortion is justified because of Stem Cell Research to save lives. Alcohol is justified because of the health benefits (good for the heart). Gambling is justified because it’s good for the economy. Michael Fitzgerald, a columnist for the Stockton California Records disputes the economic argument for gambling, specifically in reference to casinos. He cites a 1994 study out of the University of Illinois that indicated the social problems created by gambling—addiction, domestic abuse, suicide, crime, indebtedness—outweigh by far any benefits to the community. In fact, the gambling enterprise costs “taxpayers three dollars for every one dollar of state revenue collected.” Additionally, a Creighton University study found that “counties with casinos soon have double the bankruptcy rates of counties without casinos.”
Don’t buy this “benefit” argument. According to information on the Nevada Resort Association website in January 2009, “over a third of all funding for Nevada’s public schools comes from the gambling industry.” But when you consult the Nevada Department of Education, you find a different story. Their “Quick Facts” guide says that only 15 percent of educational funding comes from
gambling. The benefit argument is just another carefully crafted lie of the devil. Regardless, the Bible teaches that it is never right to do wrong. When Christians start reasoning that we will do wrong so that good may come, we have gotten ourselves into big trouble.
A fifth attempt to defend gambling says, “Well, I only spend a dollar a week. I only buy one lottery ticket per week. I’m not wasting much money. It’s just a cheap way to have some fun.
It gives me something to hope for.” If you want something to hope for, lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). Regardless of what you say, you are wasting money. One dollar per week equals 52 dollars per year. For a missionary in Africa, 52 dollars could make a huge impact on the Lord’s work. Certainly by gambling one hurts his influence. It’s going to be hard to turn around and talk to the person behind you about the gospel when standing in line to buy a lottery ticket. Some make this argument: “I only do a little.” What if we apply that to other areas? A man looks at a little pornography. Someone uses the Lord’s name in vain only a little. A woman cheats on her taxes a little. We must remember that a little wrong is still wrong.
Let’s answer some questions. First, “What about Sweepstakes, or door prizes, or a company giving away something in a drawing?” Is it wrong to enter your name in Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes? No. It doesn’t fit the definition of gambling. Remember the three basic elements of gambling. In the sweepstakes there is no wager, it costs nothing, and the winner does not win at the direct loss of the others. In this situation, the prize is really a gift. Then there’s the question, “What about a cake raffle where you buy tickets?” That is gambling and a Christian should not participate in it.
The devil will tell us a lot of lies. He will tell us that it helps the schools, it’s good for education, and it boosts the economy. But anything that takes from the poor, wreaks havoc on communities, promotes covetousness and addiction, and hurts one’s reputation as a Christian is something we should want no part of. Gambling is a sin, any way you roll the dice!