On the whole I think it’s fair to say that for most of her history the church has been as comfortable with gambling as O.J. Simpson would be at the LAPD’s Annual Christmas Ball. But should this be the case? Is gambling a sin?
Christians are typically anti-gambling and portrayed as such in pop culture, sometimes amusingly so….
Ned Flanders views are expressed by his wife Maude; ‘Neddy doesn’t believe in insurance. He considers it a form of gambling.’
Homer takes a different view;
Homer : Your mother has this crazy idea that gambling is wrong. Even though they say it’s okay in the bible.
Lisa : Really? Where?
Homer : Uh … Somewhere in the back.
Homer, as we all realise, was of course lying about the bible endorsing gambling but it may surprise many to know that nowhere in the bible is gambling actually explicitly listed as a sin.
That’s pretty amazing. Gambling is a serious issue. Billions of dollars are spent in casinos, at sports books and online every year and has existed back to biblical times. Gambling is linked to a variety of heath issues, mental disorders, depression, suicide and other addictive behaviours. Crime and problem gambling have often gone hand in hand. Author Timothy L. O’Brien states, “Judged by the dollars spent, gambling is now more popular in America than baseball, the movies, and Disneyland-combined.” (Bad Bet: The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America’s Gambling Industry). Yet nowhere in scripture is gambling even mentioned.
The Biblical Argument Against Gambling
The first case normally made is that ‘the love of money’ is at the heart of gambling which is clearly condemned in scripture. 1 Timothy 6:10 says ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’ And again in Luke 6:13 ‘No servant can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
If the ‘love of money’ is driving us to gamble then we are indeed in sin. However the ‘love of money’, or having money as our master is not simply the desire to make money, otherwise none of us could go to work or make a living. The ‘love of money’ is the pursuit of money as a functional God that will bring us joy, safety, security and salvation. It is akin to greed and covetousness, unhealthy desires which reveal the true treasures of our heart. The same can be said about how some people approach the stock market or investment opportunities. Based on this reasoning I don’t think that seeking to receive money from gambling is a sin in itself but if we have made money a god and gambling our ritual then we are in sin.
The second argument is that we are called to be stewards of what God has given us, including our time and finances. The undeniable truth is that most people lose when they gamble. Short term wins rarely amount to long term net gain. There are no doubt a small percentage of people who do gamble regularly and make a profit. Indeed as gambling (particularly online poker) has grown in popularity there are probably more professional gamblers than ever before. For most people however gambling will be a waste of God’s money and His people’s time.
Despite this, it is still a practice that we cannot biblically denounce as sin overall and Christians have the liberty to partake in it provided that they are listening to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Spending twenty dollars for a couple of hours fun is cheaper than most recreational activities these days and it could be argued that it is a better stewardship of God’s resources than paying to see some movies. If a Christian chooses to spend some of their recreational income on gambling after tithing, providing for their family and generous giving then I find it difficult to argue that this is poor stewardship. Likewise a professional gambler is not necessarily in sin if they steward their financial income from gambling wisely.
Perhaps the best argument against gambling from a biblical perspective is that often times those who we take money from when we gamble are those who can least afford to lose it (though not if you are playing against the casino). God’s heart is very much turned towards the poor (eg. Psalm 12:5, 41:1-2). As Christians we are called to care for and give to the poor (eg, Luke 12:33, 14:13-14) not to take from them. This certainly limits the people that a Christian could possibly gamble with but still does not make gambling an outright sin in every circumstance.
There are other arguments against gambling but I believe these three are the strongest and while they certainly should cause us to approach gambling cautiously I don’t believe that they condemn gambling as an outright sin. Gambling is a liberty that scripture allows but one which carries risks, in some cases serious risks, the same as drinking or smoking. It is addictive and can certainly become an Idol in out lives. I would not at all question a Christian’s decision to not gamble because they believe it to be poor stewardship, or because they would be doing so out of the love of money or even because they won’t risk harming the poor.
However I also believe that we have no authority to say that gambling is always a sin or that if you are gambling you are therefore sinning. So please carefully seek out the Holy Spirit’s conviction for your life and remember the immortal words of Mike McDermott from Rounders, “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”