The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Gambling for Christians?
GAMBLING IS AN EXPENSIVE HABIT. IT OFTEN CONSUMES HALF ONE’S INCOME AND CAN LEAD TO ENORMOUS DEBTS. THIS HABIT CAN RUIN MARRIAGES AND CAREERS AND MAY EVEN CAUSE SOME TO BECOME INVOLVED IN CRIME. ITS VICTIMS ARE HOOKED AND CAN SUFFER WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS LIKE THOSE SEEN IN OTHER ADDICTS.
GAMBLING is so universal that some countries consider it a “national pastime.” However, what, exactly, is gambling? Gambling is “betting on the outcome of a future event,” states The World Book Encyclopedia. “Gamblers usually bet money or something else of value as a stake on the outcome they predict. When the outcome is settled, the winner collects the losers’ stakes.”
Gambling is not a new phenomenon. The ancient Maya of Central America once played a popular ball game called poktatok—known to the Aztecs as tlachtli—“in which some, having lost their wealth [by gambling on the game], staked their own lives,” says Américas magazine. These ancients caught the betting fever, sometimes “risking a life of slavery on the fickle bounce of a rubber ball.”
Why have many caught the gambling fever? According to Duane Burke, president of the Public Gaming Research Institute in the United States, “more and more people are treating gambling as an acceptable form of leisure activity.” Even some religious organizations approve of gambling as a means of raising funds.
Although gambling is popular and has a long history, can it be just an innocent pastime for Christians? Or is there more to it than that?
Why Do People Gamble?
In short, to win. For gamblers, gambling seems to be a quick, exciting way to make money without the effort and discipline involved in working at a secular job. Much time is spent fantasizing about the “big win” and what that purse can bring them in fame and goods.
But the odds against the gambler are phenomenal. For example, statistician Ralf Lisch says that in Germany “you are four times likelier to be struck by lightning in the course of the year than to [win] in the [German lottery] pools.” If that does not sound convincing, he adds the following comparison: “If you’re a man, your chances of surviving to [the age of] 100 are 7,000 times greater than [that of winning the lottery].” Ironically, the gambler may be aware of this. So, what makes him continue to gamble?
According to Dr. Robert Custer, in his book When Luck Runs Out, for some who gamble, “the financial gain is only one aspect of winning. . . . For them the important thing is the envy, respect, admiration, adulation that winning the money can command.” He adds that for these it is the “thrill to be able to flash a roll of bills or just to be able to say, ‘I won five big ones’ and to bask in the glory.”
On the other hand, winning—and the thrill that goes along with it—is still not enough for many gamblers. The urge to gamble may grow so strong that they become compulsive gamblers. In a study conducted by Dr. Custer with members of Gamblers Anonymous, 75 percent of those surveyed said they would brag about winning even when they were losing! Yes, gambling may become an addiction as severe and destructive as addiction to alcohol or any other drug. How many gamblers have slipped over that thin line from diversion to dependence? How many have and do not even know it?
The Bible does not discuss gambling in detail. Nevertheless, it does provide us with principles that help us determine how God views gambling.
Experience has shown that gambling reflects greed. The Bible strongly condemns greed, warning that ‘no greedy person would have any inheritance in God’s kingdom.’ (Ephesians 5:5) Greed is seen even when gamblers lose. According to one authority, the gambler “tries to win back what he has lost—looking for the ‘big hit.’ If he does win big, he bets bigger, and eventually loses his ‘big hit.’” Yes, greed is certainly a part of gambling.
Gambling is used by some as a means of feeding their pride. One survey conducted with compulsive gamblers showed that 94 percent considered gambling to be an “ego building activity,” and 92 percent said they felt like a “big shot” when they gambled. Yet, God says: “Self-exaltation and pride . . . I have hated.” Thus, Christians are urged to cultivate modesty and humility.—Proverbs 8:13; 22:4; Micah 6:8.
Gambling may also induce laziness, since it seems like an easy way to make money without the effort involved in working. But God’s Word clearly incites Christians to diligent, hard work.—Ephesians 4:28.
Moreover, what they call luck is so important to some gamblers that they become obsessed with it, making it their god. This is similar to the Bible account about men who were “setting in order a table for the god of Good Luck.” Because of their idolatrous action, they were destined “to the sword.”—Isaiah 65:11, 12.
What if a person is offered a free lottery ticket or free money to use for gambling? In either case, accepting such an offer would still be supporting a gambling operation—an operation out of harmony with godly principles.
No, gambling is not for Christians. As one magazine editor put it, ‘not only is gambling wrong but it is also a poor bet.’
[Picture Credit Line on page 14]
Valentin/The Cheaters, Giraudon/Art Resource