Gambling and its effects are all around us every day,
enticing us with the prospect of getting something for nothing. You can buy a lottery ticket in most any
convenience store and hear all about it on the evening television news. A variety of casinos and race tracks are
usually never far away. You can now also
do your betting over the Internet. It
has even flavored our everyday language: "odds are..."; "five will
get you ten." I'll bet you didn't
think about that.
The word "gamble" is not found in the Bible, and
the student would be hard-pressed to even find an example of it in
scripture. So, there is no direct
command against the practice. However,
just because the word or instance is not found in the Bible does not mean it
has nothing to say about it; Bible instruction is typically in the form of
principle. For example, in Galatians 5,
the apostle lists the works of the flesh, and in verse 21, in case he missed
something by name, says "...and things like these." Therefore, we should examine whether gambling
is a work of the flesh in principle.
First, we need to define what we mean by the term. Gambling is defined by Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary as "to play or game for money or other stake; to hazard;
wager." Three key points can be
derived from this definition as follows:
of value to be gained or lost is placed deliberately in hazard.
is determined by some arbitrary event of chance or uncertainty not inherent to
come at the loss of other participants without whom there is no gamble.
A typical argument in favor of gambling is that there are
many risks we take in everyday life. It
can be said, in a sense, that walking across the street is a gamble in which
you risk getting hit by a car. Life insurance
and the Stock Market are other examples.
However, we do not deliberately cross the street in order to
place ourselves in a hazard. No
one else gains anything of value we have wagered if we do not successfully
negotiate the transaction, and we stand to gain nothing they have wagered if we
do. The point is, not everything in life
that is a risk or a matter of chance is gambling in the sense under
Another argument often heard in favor of gambling is that it
is just another form of entertainment.
Much of what we do for amusement or excitement involves deliberately
placing ourselves in hazardous situations.
People die almost daily from accidents involving snow skiing, bungee
jumping, sky diving, mountain climbing, or motorcycle riding. The point is, not every hazardous activity in
life in which we willfully participate for exhilaration is gambling. These situations, though involving risk,
are not so arbitrary. If the rule
was that sometimes the roller coaster arbitrarily stays on the track and
sometimes it arbitrarily does not, only the suicidally insane would ever ride a
roller coaster. Moreover, the gamble is
not the event of chance itself; it is the wager against the event of chance. The event itself is essentially beside the point;
it can be anything the wagerers agree to.
An important part of the definition is
"gaming." Games of chance
wherein you stand to win a thing of value always require more than one player;
you can't win money playing solitaire. So
then, the gambler, by definition, always stands to gain by other people's
loss. Furthermore, this game is not
to be compared, for example, to professional sports, where the prize is earned
by a superior performance, and the losing competitors do not provide the purse.
These three elements are most easily seen by the
illustration of a gambling game in its most primitive form. (1) Two men willingly agree to contribute one
dollar which is pooled into a pot. (2)
They agree to base their choosing on a simple coin toss: a chance event having
no inherent connection to the money collected.
(3) They agree that the one thus winning takes back his dollar plus the
dollar the other participant so loses.
That is the essence of the gamble.
Any activity characterized by these three elements is gambling in the
sense being considered. In practice,
gambling can become more diverse and complicated with higher stakes, game
rules, and weighted odds, but the three basic elements are always there.
Now let's look for some Bible principles that may have a
bearing on gambling.
Gambling is essentially based on the evil desire to get
money or goods which belong to someone else without giving fair value in
exchange. The Bible calls this sin
"covetousness" and makes it clear that those who do such things shall
not inherit the kingdom of God. (Romans 1:28-32).
1 Corinthians 6:9, 10
Colossians 3:5, 6
Note that Paul identifies covetousness as idolatry. Idolatry, in its most basic understanding, is
anything that we would love and follow after more than God.
Not all forms of gambling involve deceit, but many do. Events involving some competitive action of
the participants, like billiards, typically do.
The hustle, to some, is considered the ultimate gamble, because the odds
of winning are thought to be increased.
For example, the typical pool hustle is executed by deliberately losing
when the stakes are low, thereby concealing the player's true skill level. After a while, when the stakes are very high,
the competitor begins to play his best.
One might argue that this is therefore not gambling because it is no
longer a chance event, but it is; no one knows when the hustler might get
hustled. This whole scenario is based on
treachery, dishonesty, and deceit, and it's a part of gambling.
Someone may argue that there is nothing wrong with deceiving
a deceiver; they get what they deserve.
Not so: the faithful Christian behaves uprightly before all men. Consider these verses:
1 Peter 2:1
1 Peter 3:8 - 10
The scriptures not only condemn deceit but warn against
being deceived. Organized gambling
institutions lure patrons with glitzy casinos, lavish hotels, and clever
advertisements. They never show the
gambler broken down and destitute.
Reports indicate that casinos play audio recordings of the clanging
coins of a slot machine jackpot hit to make people think winning is a frequent
For an equitable economic society, God has ordained each
citizen to be industrious: engaged in some form of occupation to sustain
himself or his family. For examples, the
scriptures indicate three legitimate means of providing a livelihood:
1 Thessalonians 3:9, 10
1 Thessalonians 4:11
2 Thessalonians 3:7-13
1 Timothy 5:18
Even if a man becomes independently wealthy, the godly
man never becomes lazy; he can always work to share his wealth with
others. God's plan involves an honorable
day's work for a commensurate day's pay.
However, the gambler's profits come solely from the labor of others on
the basis of chance, not effort.
exchange of things of value: buying and selling investments:
James 4:13, 15
Buying and selling for gain or loss in the Stock
Market should not be compared with gambling; they are different in critical
ways. Though participation in the Stock
Market involves risk and uncertainty, it does not fit the three-point definition
of gambling. In stock trading, consider
that (1) the money people invest is not pooled for later distribution; it
actually buys small parts of companies that produce goods or render services. (2) Furthermore, profits do not come as a
result of some arbitrary chance event; they come as a result of the hard work
and success of the companies in which they invested. (3) Also, the money people earn in stock
trading does not depend upon the losses of others who also have invested.
and receiving gifts:
Acts 2:44, 45
1 Timothy 5:9, 16
The gambler never gives without hoping for something
Gambling is none of these things and therefore contrary to
God's plan for a legitimate economy.
Gambling can be addictive.
When the gambler senses that he has the real chance of becoming rich
beyond his imagination, even as remote as this chance could possibly be, it
creates psychological exhilaration.
Researchers believe that intense excitement can release chemicals called
"endorphins" produced in the body which have an effect like a
pain-killing drug. This thrill or
"emotional high" keeps the gambler coming back time after time, even
if he continually loses. In our society
today, we see support groups existing to help millions of citizens addicted to
gambling. Gamblers often destroy their
homes, marriages, and livelihoods. Our
study of drug abuse takes a closer look at addiction, but it should be
sufficient for now to say that a lack of self-control is at the heart of
addiction, and God's word requires us to have self control. This destructive cycle is generated by
nothing more than desires of the flesh, but it can be broken by pursuing
spiritual things. Consider these
2 Timothy 3:2-4
1 Corinthians 6:12
Gambling is diametrically opposed to contentment. Many addicts end up stealing or embezzling to
pay their debts or support their habit.
As discontentment leads to misery, some gambling addicts will eventually
turn to drunkenness to try to find contentment or even commit suicide. Law enforcement authorities frequently report
murders in connection with gambling debts.
No matter how you sell it, gambling is not in the best interest of our
1 Timothy 6:10
The best way to avoid an addiction is to never begin the
addictive practice in the first place.
Someone may argue "I can control it; I won't let it get out of
hand." Every addict thinks this at
first; no gambling addict ever started out seriously thinking, "I will
probably be miserably addicted to this someday." Besides, even if you are able to keep it from
getting out of control, your participation may encourage others to gamble who
may not have the same self-control.
Then, you are guilty of leading them into sin, and your influence for
good is lost.
Gambling also touches the issue of stewardship of the
resources God has given us. God has
provided us with gifts, talents, and resources, which are to be used by us for
the furtherance of his kingdom. If we
needlessly and arbitrarily place these gifts at risk for mere entertainment or
for additional gain, we are not being good stewards. Luke 15:11 begins the story of the prodigal
son who is condemned for wasting his goods on riotous living.
1 Corinthians 4:2
Works Of The Flesh
So then, where does gambling fit in the life of a faithful
Christian; is it a fruit of the Spirit or a work of the flesh?
Galatians 5:19; Now the works of the flesh are evident, which
are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry,
sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish
ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness,
revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told
you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the
kingdom of God.
Of the sins listed, the honest Bible student will
immediately recognize the connection between many of these and gambling:
Idolatry [EIDOLOLATRIA] - avarice, as a worship
of Mammon (J. H. Thayer).
Jealousies [ZELOS] - ardor in embracing,
pursuing, defending anything … the fierceness of indignation … contentious
rivalry (J. H. Thayer).
Selfish ambitions [ERITHEIA] - a desire to put one's
self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts
(J. H. Thayer); ambition, self-seeking, rivalry, and self-will (W. E. Vine).
Envy [PHTHONOS] – the desire to deprive another
of what he has (W. E. Vine).
These are the characteristics of gambling.
We have examined the Bible principles at play in
gambling. Though the Bible nowhere says
"you shall not gamble," we have found gambling to be contrary the
scriptural principles of contentment, selflessness, honesty, industriousness,
self-control, influence, stewardship, and spirituality. Many of the gambler's traits are described in
2 Timothy 3:2-4
Let's be certain of one thing: if gambling violates divine
principles, it is sin. The faithful
Christian will not engage in it or give approval of those that do (Romans
Let's look now at applying these principles to daily life.
What about moderation?
Someone may argue that there is nothing wrong with gambling
in insignificant amounts. They may
reason that $20 once a year is nothing to them, and losing it in gambling is no
different from spending $20 on some frivolous knickknack for their house. However, to someone else, that $20 may be
significant: it might put several needed meals on their family's table. So who's to say how little is small
enough? We have demonstrated so far that
gambling stands in violation of God's will on the basis of divine principles;
it is a matter principle, not proportion.
Gambling comes in many forms, and the faithful Christian will keep his
distance from every one of them.
1 Thessalonians 5:22
What about "social gambling?"
Satan offers the temptation to engage in gambling in
insidious ways. At some workplaces,
"office pools" are frequently arranged. The wager can be over anything from a ball
game to guessing a newborn baby's weight.
Typically, everyone is asked to put in just a dollar or two, and who
ever wins the draw gets the pot. They
will often pressure you to participate, because, of course, the more that does,
the bigger the pot.
Another similar thing frequently happens with a foursome on
the golf course. Before beginning, they
all arbitrarily agree that the loser will buy all of them drinks at the
end. It may not be obvious, but this
fits all the elements of gambling.
Essentially, they have each agreed to put up the amount of money
required to buy all the drinks. (In most
gambling games, only one or just a few people win; the majority of the players
lose. However, in this case, the agreed
rule is that three of them win and only one loses.) The winners get their money back plus a free
drink; the loser loses the value of three drinks (he enjoys the one he buys for
himself). They may not lay their money
on the table or verbalize all this, but all three elements are there: (1) the
deliberate hazarding of a thing of value to be gained or lost, (2) an arbitrary
chance event (the game is the wager, not the golf), and (3) the winners'
profits come from the losses of another.
That's gambling. A gambling
addict and former NBA referee confessed that wagering on the golf course was
his starting point. Our tendency may be
just to go along in order to get along, but if we do so, we violate divine
1 Peter 4:3-5
What about worthy causes?
Satan really gets crafty here. Sometimes, raffles are held. In these, there are often two winners: one a
game player and one not. The winner who
is not a game player is typically some group of needy people, and they usually
never know how the money is actually raised.
The players might all be asked to buy a ticket for $10. Depending on how
many players they can recruit, they might award $1000 to the charity and $1000
to some "lucky winner." This
fits the gambling definition and is thus an ungodly practice. No amount of good accomplished by it can
validate the method.
This becomes even more insidious when the worthy cause is a
religious organization, especially when the largest denomination in the world
claiming to worship Jesus Christ practices this. In fact, the word "bingo" could
almost become a synonym for the institution.
We may ask what could be wrong with gambling when many religious leaders
sanction it. However, remember that the
traditions of man-made religion are not our standard for authority.
The same principle holds true for a pledge. What if you make a promise to God that if you
win the lottery, you'll give half your winnings to the church? Think of how much good work could be done for
the Lord with millions of dollars in the treasury! Let's not deceive ourselves; the end does not
justify the means.
It's sad that some people must be motivated to give by
catering to their "what's-in-it-for-me" attitude. If you wish to give money to a worthy cause,
just give the money without a desire for anything in return.
We may be tempted to argue, "What difference does it
make whether I give this way or that?
What does it hurt to give with the chance of getting something in
return?" The difference is: these
actions are in violation of divine principles.
What about using other people’s money?
Consent = Participation
2 Corinthians 5:11-17
What about playing games without wagering?
Virtually any random event or game can be wagered upon. Any sport from ping pong to polo can be a
gambling vehicle. Certain games,
however, have become particularly connected with gambling by the frequent
association. These games include
billiards, cards (especially poker), and horse racing. Apart from wagering, there's nothing in these
activities inherently contrary to godly principles. It is the wagering that is wrong; the gamble
is not in the game itself.
1 Timothy 4:8
1 Corinthians 9:24, 25
We have demonstrated that gambling is a violation of clear
godly principles. Let's be certain of
one thing: if gambling violates divine principles, it is sin. The faithful Christian will not engage in it
or give approval of those that do (Romans 1:29-32). In Philippians 4:8, the inspired apostle
makes a representative list of noble things.
Gambling qualifies for none of them.
And Questions For Discussion
What three elements must be involved for an
activity to be gambling according to this discussion?
in your own words the significant difference between taking a risk and
is the meaning of "stewardship?"
the three legitimate modes of income revealed in scripture.
is wrong with playing "the loser pays" game?
you think of any circumstance or condition where gambling as described would be