Is Gambling a Sin?

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.

Conclusion

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.”

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9 responses to “Is Gambling a Sin?

  1. You can count me in as one who is uncomfortable with gambling, but for two other reasons not stated above:

    Gambling, especially games like poker, where you have to put on a false ‘front’, encourage lying and deceit. In fact, their entire premise is based upon such, hence terms like “poker face.” The person with the best deception tends to win the most games and get the most money: you are rewarded for your ability to lie!

    Gambling is addictive. Period. It causes a rush of adrenaline and hormonal stimulants into the system, increasing a person’s sense of alertness and euphoria. Winning a gambling game is like getting high. Soon enough, your body craves that burst of adrenaline as surely as a heroin addict ‘needs’ his chemical fix, and the times away from the seduction of the casino (or the needle) melt into joyless stretches. The only difference between the two is the source of the euphoriant–in the case of the gambling addict, he is using his body’s own naturally-synthesized drugs against himself. At their core, habitual gamblers are the classical “adrenaline junkie.”

    Perhaps most telling, is the fact that many casinos play on this addiction. They offer an exciting, neon-lit and glittery environment full of fascinating sound and sumptuous food and rich alcohol, surrounded by sexy men and women in exotic suits. They stroke your ego and pump up your sense of adventure; every square inch of the average casino is predicated on heightening the sense of anticipation and tension, all contributing to that near-orgasmic burst of adrenaline.

    It’s Disneyland for grown-ups. And like it, the facades are gleaming and pretty to look at…until you catch a glimpse of the back side of the set and see it’s mostly hollow fiberglass and empty promises of fleeting happiness.

  2. By the way: LOVE the new look! Sorry I’ve been away…been crazy on the home front so I’ve been mostly on FB and Twitter. I’ll have to scale back on that soon, too, since I’ll probably be even busier by this coming February with a new little one… 🙂

    • Hi Denita,

      That’s great news with your pregnancy! May God protect and bless you and your little one in this time. It’s also good to see your comments. I always enjoy reading your comments as your heart to honour the Lord is very apparent.

  3. Hi Denita,

    Thanks for your comment, great to have you check back in. You make a fantastic point about the addictive qualities of gambling. I would never want to pretend that it isn’t a potentially dangerous liberty for us to participate in and I believe your stance is full of wisdom. You also make an excellent point about casinos and it would be foolish for us not to realise what their goal’s and strategy’s are. My point is only that gambling can be a sin but we cannot make the blanket statement that ‘gambling is sin’.

    As for gambling encouraging lying and deceiving, I’ll include a paragraph below that I cut due to a self imposed word limit.

    ‘Another argument against gambling is that it requires ‘bluffing’ which is deception and therefore lying and breaks the ninth commandment of not bearing false witness. To this I will only briefly respond that if you follow this reasoning through then you can also never give a head fake in basketball, a juke in football, a feint in boxing, or cheat in monopoly. Once you enter into a game where both opponents agree that deception is valid within the rules of the game then it falls outside the scope of false testimony as a biblical concept. Also, does that mean that you can gamble in games like blackjack and roulette where there is no bluffing? This argument makes no sense….and I was just kidding about the monopoly.’

  4. James, I have really enjoyed reading your recent posts whereby you focus on our need to primarily look at the state of our heart as opposed to just the resultant action. What lies beneath in our heart often is left unchecked by focusing too much on the symptomatic actions.

    As far as gambling, like Denita, I am uncomfortable. Not so much that the action in itself is a sin or not, but rather what drives it and what it can lead to. The same can be said about smoking given the clear awareness of the harm it does to our body. The Bible doesn’t label a lot of specific ‘actions’ as sinful, however we have been given biblical principles to apply in order that we make decisions that honour our Lord. Clearly in hindsight we would do things differently, but we must always search our motives as you have pointed out James.

    Also I think we need to ensure that we have a healthy attitude of looking out for and building one another up in Christ. Knit-picking is not edifying. However we need to be held accountable to one another. To not look out for each other with their best at heart is not the kind of love that Galatians 5:1 talks about. We live in a very seductive and enticing world which makes living a faithful Christian life very challenging every day. We need to blend mercy with our obligation to look out for one another. One great blessing of the gospel message is that we have been saved by grace alone.Therefore we are free to learn from our mistakes and soldier on without condemnation from God. If God extends that level of mercy, we need to do it with one another

    In saying all of that, if I was aware of a brother or sister in Christ who was gambling at an increased rate, and who I had a solid relationship with, I would approach them to ask what’s going on here. I would expect the same with myself. Gambling, like other activities out there, has a very addictive lure to it and we need to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our first love in Christ.

    • Totally agree Stu. If I knew anyone was gambling regularly or increasingly then I would absolutely ask them why they do it, what drives them, how often they do it, how much they gamble and then possibly challenge them accordingly.

      I think you have really hit on what I’m driving at with a lot of these posts. I’m not trying to say we should start gambling, drinking, smoking and swearing. What I’m saying is that it is counter productive to the Gospel to have a legalistic reaction to these issues instead of following the biblical principles of liberty guided by the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. A believers maturity grows through confronting these topics and reaching a wise and discerning response to them. We encourage immaturity and legalism when we simply say ‘Don’t do this!’ when the bible doesn’t say that itself.

      • Hi James,

        Again- thanks for the post!

        A book titled -‘ Who Are You To Judge?’ by Dave Swavely [I’m currently reading it] deals with this very issue and others of a very similar nature. Many who have an interest in the area of sinful judgement and legalism would benefit greatly from reading this.

        I think of one Scripture when I think of gambling;

        “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” 1 Timothy 6:9

        I am of the personal-conviction that gambling solely in and of itself is not generally a sin – however I do believe a high percentage of occurances of people gambling are indeed sinful.

        It [judging etc] is one of those things where we should not “go beyond what is written”…..

        I am reminded of Mark Driscoll telling his congregation [largely made up of single young men] something along the lines of “masturbation is not a sin….[pause]… but lust is, so if you can do it without lusting then thats fine”. Thats dangerous.

        So too, is it when we make blanket statements about issues like gambling. With all these areas it all comes down to maturity, knowledge of liberty and the abuses thereof.

        • Hi Matthew,

          Great comment. I love how you phrased your last sentence ‘With all these areas it all comes down to maturity, knowledge of liberty and the abuses thereof.’ That’s a terrific summary.

          Masturbation is another topic that scripture is silent on specifically but we are given related principles which we have to draw our convictions from. I’ll probably end up tackling it at some point but for now I’d say that I mostly agree with Driscoll but I think its wise of you to point out that such thinking can be dangerous.

          Thanks Matt!

  5. Thanks for the well-wishes, folks! 🙂

    It seems that, for the most part, we’re all on the same page concerning gambling and the state of the heart. It seems that most actions in themselves are not necessarily harmful, it’s just that it’s very easy for the fallen human heart to take the action and turn it into something sinful. Sex is an excellent example of something that–with the correct heart–is not only NOT harmful but is very God-glorifying and beneficial. But look how the heart of depraved man has warped and twisted it into a selfish quest for physical pleasure!

    The playing of games is, without a doubt, a wonderful time for friends and family to bond. Good sportsmanship and healthy competition strengthens unity, drives the gearworks of proper self-improvement, and can even be used as a powerful evangelistic tool. (“How about we talk about the Gospel of Matthew over a few hoops?” or “Wow, you really trounced me! God gave you a wonderful batting arm!”)

    Unfortunately, like sex, we have perverted it into something that invites the heart to sin. I do see your point about other games needing a level of deceit to accomplish a goal–and the examples were excellent (even Monopoly, depending on your fellow players! 😉 )–but as you said, when both parties understand this, and assume a level of accountability, they fall outside the sin of false testimony.

    But overall, the entire gambling industry is driven by the sin of false testimony. The casino paints itself as a place where families can go and have a little fun, the kids get to be pampered and the adults get to spend a little money, and maybe even get more money back. Look at your average Vegas ad: Mommy and Daddy, all smiles, kids in hand, surrounded by gold-encrusted architecture with dancing girls in skimpy feathered outfits high-stepping behind them.

    Their picture of utopia is devoid of the rampant alcoholism, addiction, abuse and prostitution that plagues their gold-plated streets. They quietly sweep the stories of suicidal parents and broken families under the rug.

    The only industry that rivals them, in terms of dollars spent and souls lost, is the pornography industry. And often, the two go hand in hand.

    I have met people who could blithely walk in to the Luxor and spend $100, walk back out, and never feel a twitch of desire. I’ve also met people who can drink a few Long Island Iced Teas with friends at a bar, and not crave another drink for the rest of their lives (my husband is one of them). There are people who can smoke cigarettes but never become addicted. But those people are rare as rocking horse dung, and while one substance (or action, or social situation,) may not grab their lusts, another certainly will. And it’s a guarantee that whatever does grab their desires, Satan will use to drag them down into the pits of Hell.

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