Donnie V. Rader
What is gambling? Is it a sin? Can we prove it to be wrong, even though it is not mentioned in the Bible? How can we argue that betting $2.00 on a horse is wrong, but losing $1,000 in the stock market is not? Can gambling be justified on the basis that the revenue it generates is used for education and other good programs? These and other questions we will attempt to answer in this article.
A Widespread Problem
“Lotteries are the most-played form of legalized gambling in the U.S.” (John R. Hill, Theft By Consent). In 1997 Americans wagered $35.8 billion on lotteries. That is $135 for every man woman and child in the nation. “The amount gambled yearly in the United States–estimated at more than $500 billion –easily outpaces government expenses on Medicare and Medicaid combined” (Mayo Foundation, 1999).
“At least 75% of all high school students have gambled.” That makes it average and expected. Thus, gambling to many is no big deal. The fastest growing group of problem gamblers in terms of those calling for help is senior citizens. Seventy-two percent of Florida’s seniors calling a hotline for problem gamblers–identify the lottery as the source of their problem.
Store owners in California reported a decline in grocery sales equivalent to the sale of lotteries tickets where stores sold the tickets (John R. Hill, Theft by Consent, 4).
Not a New Problem
The Greeks of Homer’s time took knucklebones from sheep and goats and marked them to serve as dice. Gambling boards discovered in Crete date back to 1800 to 1900 B.C. In Babylon, headless arrows were used for making wagers.
The ancient Egyptians played a game of guessing the number of upheld fingers. The classical Greeks are known to have played with astragals, the forerunner of modern dice, and Jews in biblical Israel gambled by throwing dice. The Romans were reportedly obsessed with gaming and bet heavily on gladiatorial fights and chariot races. The Roman historian Tacitus noted that the ancient Germans gambled not only wealth but liberty as well (Grolier). Tertullian said, “If you say you are a Christian when you are a dice player, you say what you are not, because you are a partner with the world.”
What Is Gambling?
1. What gambling is: The dictionaries and encyclopedias define gambling as “To bet money on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event” (American Heritage Dictionary, 546). “Gambling is the wagering of money or other valuables on the outcome of a game or other event” (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia). “Gambling is betting on the outcome of a future event. 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 loser’s stakes” (World Book Encyclopedia, 1979).
The above definitions suggest that there are three elements involved in gambling: (a) There is an uncertain event that is arbitrarily determined. (b) There is a bet or wager that is deliberately chanced. (c) Then, there is a winner and a loser. The winner gains at the expense of the loser or losers. When these three elements are present, there is gambling.
2. What gambling is not: Gambling is not taking a risk. Life is filled with risks such as crossing the street, starting a business, or operating a farm. Taking a risk does not have the three elements mentioned above. For example, buying single stock is quite risky. However, if the business does well, no one loses. Furthermore, there is no wager involved. Something of value is bought that may go up or down in value.
Buying insurance is not gambling. Again, something of value is bought–financial protection. The buyer and the insurance company both stand to gain. The risk is not created by buying an insurance policy.
Prizes such as winning a sweepstakes is not gambling. There is no risk created by registering to win a prize. There is no bet or wager involved. The three elements of gambling are not present when one registers or wins a prize.
3. Gambling is not determined by size or degree. It is a matter of what action is taken, and not the degree. It could involve $50.00 or 50¢. “Gambling, for the compulsive gambler is defined as follows: Any betting or wagering, for self or others, whether for money or not, no matter how slight or insignificant, where the outcome is uncertain or depends upon chance or ‘skill’ constitutes gambling” (Gambler’s Anonymous web page). That would include “little” things like flipping for who will buy the coffee or matching pennies.
Different Forms of Gambling
The obvious forms of gambling include the lottery, horse or dog races, poker, roulette, slot machines and betting on sports events.
There are other forms of gambling that may not be as obvious to some. At least they are practiced in places where “gambling” is not legalized. If the three elements of gambling (uncertain event, a wager, and a winner and loser) are present, it is gambling! A raffle involves gambling. Some bingo games have all three of these elements. Playing the chance games at carnivals and fairs have all three components.
Why Gambling is Wrong
The Bible does not always state the conclusion that we are to draw. Rather, there are times that God gives us the evidence from which to draw that conclusion. For example, when John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus did not give a specific “Yes” or “No.” Instead, he worked miracles in their presence and told them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard” (Lk. 17:19-22). He merely gave them evidence from which to draw their conclusion. Jesus did the same on the question of divorce in Matthew 19:3-6.
The point is: gambling is not specifically mentioned in the Bible. That is, there is no passage that says, “Thou shalt not gamble.” However, there are biblical principles that are violated in gambling. The Bible gives ample evidence for us to conclude that it is wrong.
1. It is addictive. The enslaving nature of gambling is seen in the necessity of such organizations as Gambler’s Anonymous – www.gamblersanonymous.org. The crimes gambling breeds suggest that it is an addiction that has to be supported. John R. Hill, Ph.D., senior policy analyst for Alabama Family Alliance, states:
For many of these problem gamblers, the source of their trouble is the lottery. Of the 40,000 calls to the Council on Compulsive Gambling national hotline in 1996, fully 52 percent were from adults addicted to playing the lottery (Theft By Consent, 15). Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12). Even things right within themselves become wrong when it reaches the point of addiction. When we are addicted to something we no longer have the control of self that the Bible demands (2 Pet. 1:5).
2. It is covetousness. The gambler has an inordinate desire to gain what is not rightfully his. He seeks to win at the expense of others. That is covetousness which, Paul said, is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Timothy was told, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).
3. It violates the principle of love and the golden rule. The gambler cannot love his neighbor and practice the golden rule while striving to take all at the loser’s expense. Gambling is stealing by consent just as dueling is murder by consent. It is an effort to beat another out of what he does not want to give.
Jesus preached that we should love our neighbor as our self (Matt. 22:39). In his mountain message he taught, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). In gambling one certainly is not treating others the way he wants to be treated.
4. It violates the principle of stewardship. We are to be good stewards of what God has given us (Lk.12:42; 1 Pet. 4:10). Stewards have the weighty responsibility to be diligent in handling what belongs to his master (1 Cor. 4:2).
To say the least, gambling is poor stewardship. Would you want someone to manage your money that way? The odds are against winning. John R. Hill said:
“In the typical state lottery, the odds of picking the right numbers are one in 12-14 million. By comparison, your chances of being struck by lightening are one in 1.9 million” (Theft By Consent , 23).
5. It violates the legitimate means of transfer of money or property. There are three legitimate ways of transferring money or goods. Labor involves money earned and paid for effort extended. Numerous passages allude to this (Eph. 4:28; 2 Cor. 11:8; 2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Cor. 9:9-10; Lk. 10:7; Matt. 10:10; 20:1-15). Gambling does not involve gain by labor.
Exchange is where a commodity is exchanged for something of value (money or other goods). Any buying or selling involves exchange (cf. Matt. 13:44-45; Lk. 22:36; Acts 4:32-37; 16:14). Buying stocks or insurance is an exchange. Gambling does not involve gain by exchange.
A gift is money or something of value that is given without any expectation of any return. Helping the needy involves a gift (Eph. 4:28; Acts 2, 4, 6, 11). When one receives an inheritance, it is a gift (Num. 27:1-11; Deut. 21:15-17). Gifts were given to Jesus at his birth (Matt. 2:11). When a company gives prizes (products or money) away for advertisement it is a gift. Gambling does not involve a gift. Thus, gambling does not fit any of the legitimate means of transfer of money or goods.
Gambling Breeds Others Sins
Jesus said we can know a tree by its fruits (Matt. 7:15-20). The problems that gambling generates tells us that it is corrupt.
1. Crime to support the addiction. Many gamblers (who never thought of committing a crime) have turned to all types of criminal activity to support their addiction to gambling.
According to research by the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore, at least two-thirds of compulsive gamblers engage in criminal activity to finance their addiction, including check forgery, tax evasion, embezzlement, bookmaking, prostitution, selling drugs, and fencing stolen goods. Before their addiction, many gambling addicts had no prior criminal record (John R. Hill, Theft By Consent, 19).
2. Suicide. The probability of attempting suicide is far greater among gamblers than the general population. The probability for the general population is 1.1 percent. For members of Gambler’s Anonymous it is 13 percent (John R. Hill, Video Vice, 11).
Suicide rates in gambling cities is higher than other cities.
Suicide rates in gambling cites such as Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City are higher than in non-gambling cities, according to a study published December 15, 1997, in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Web Site).
3. The general crime rate is up in gambling areas. Let’s look at three areas of the country. Las Vegas had the highest crime rate per capita in the nation in 1981. At one point they reduced the crime rate by aggressive tactics which resulted in incarcerating ten percent of the city’s population. In 1994 it had five times the violent crimes as it was able to solve (John R. Hill, Video Vice, 14). Atlantic City’s officials claim that two-thirds of all its crimes are gambling related (Ibid. 14).
In Mississippi bank robberies have increased fourfold along the river since 1992. Tunica has reported a 500 percent increase in drunk driving. The total crimes such as credit card forgery, illegal drug possession, embezzlement, prostitution and robberies have increased (Ibid. 14).
With the knowledge of what gambling is and the principles that it violates, any reasonable person should have no problem understanding that it is wrong.
– Truth Magazine, Vol. XLIV: 23, p. 17, December 7, 2000