Is Gambling Right? Don't Bet On It!
Larry Ray Hafley
Three years ago, the Institution for Social Research at the University of Michigan made an extensive study of gambling in the United States. The study revealed that in 1974, two out of every three Americans made a bet. Gambling is a mufti-billion dollar business of crime and sin. More than 30 billion dollars is gambled etch year in this country!
Definitions of Gambling
Gambling is defined by various sources as: “to play games of chance for money or some other stake.” “Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident, or which may have an unexpected result by reason of the betters miscalculation.”
What We Are Not Discussing
First, we are not discussing the stock market. One who “plays” the market purchases something of value. His money is used by the company. Both the buyer and the company may profit from the purchase of stock, or both may lose. The buyer may receive a return, a profit, or a loss in the business; this is economics, not gambling as we have defined it.
Second, We are not concerned with a farmer who takes a risk in planting his crops. He does not expect something for nothing. He does not profit at another's expense. His success benefits everyone and harms no one.
Third, we are not talking about the “gamble in the game of life.” There is an element of risk in crossing a street, driving a car, and walking down a flight of stairs. This is not the issue.
Fourth, we are not arguing that the term, “gamble,” is in the Bible. It is not. One who wants to dispute that fact may have the field to himself. That is not the question.
Is Gambling Sinful?
“To gamble or not to gamble, that is the question,” the point of dispute. Gambling is sinful because:
(1) It violates the principle of stewardship. The child of God is to be a faithful and wise steward (Lk. 12:42; 1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor. 4:2). The prodigal son perhaps squandered part of his family fortune by gambling (Lk. 15:13). Though it was his “portion of goods,” still, he had an obligation to use it wisely. The elder son recognized this when he sullenly said, “Thy son . . . hath devoured thy living with harlots.” It was the younger boys’ possession from the father. Our possessions come from our Father in heaven. Everything ultimately belongs to Him (Psa. 50:8-10), though there is a sense in which it belongs to us (Acts 5:4). As such, we must oversee our share of this world’s goods with the virtues of labor, benevolence, and thrift. Gambling is not a virtue. Would you want someone to take your gift and wager it?
(2) Is goes against the “golden rule” (Matt. 7.12). The Bible teaches that we are to love our neighbor as we do ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). However, in gambling, if one is able to acquire his brother’s goods by trickery or chance, it is simply “too bad.” Can the gambler say he does unto others as he would they do unto him? No, the gambler’s motto is, “I hope I can do it unto you before you do it unto me.”
(3) It is stealing. Murder is wrong, but, at times, men and nations have “legalized” duels; hence, murder by common consent. Likewise, men and nations have laws against stealing; yet, they often seek to legitimatize it and call it gambling. Do you think God approves of murder just because it was done under the strict rules of a duel? What makes you think he endorses thievery under the guise of gambling?
(4) It contradicts the work ethic. The Bible teaches that men are to earn their bread by work, by the sweat of their brow (2 Thess. 3:10 Gen. 1:19). Granted, a gambler may have cause to sweat because of a large debt, but his “labor” is not productive. His winnings do not represent renumeration for the exchange of goods and services. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes extol the virtue of toil, of riches gained by honest labor. Gambling is not consistent with this view of work in the Scriptures; hence, it is sinful.
(5) It exploits others. The Bible sound condemns those who exploit others for their own advantage (Jas. 5:1-5). True, the text does not specifically deal with gambling, but the principle is the same. Observe a parallel. In James 2, James condemns partiality. The prejudicial treatment is based on wealth. James convicts respect of persons on the basis of wealth. The principle would apply in regard to racial discrimination. As we may use Jas. 2:1-4 to condemn respect of persons based on race, though the text itself deals with wealth; so, we may use Jas. 5:1-5 to condemn exploitation, though gambling is not the immediate subject.
(6) It results in intemperance. The Lord requires moderation, temperance, or self control in all things. Gambling is addictive. It maintains a grip on people like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and pornography. To underscore that fact, there is a Gamblers Anonymous (GA) Organization like the more famous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There are as many as 10 million compulsive gamblers in the United States! They are literally hooked on gambling. Perhaps not everything that is addictive is wrong, but gambling is an addiction which results in the loss of things that could be put to use in one's life in the world and in the service of God, and, as such, it is wrong.
(7) It sets a bad example. Christians must be concerned about their influence for truth and righteousness (Matt. 5-13-16). Children of God must provide things honest in the sight of all men (Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:21). One must not give occasion for the devil to desecrate the word and name of God (1 Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:5, 10). Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) is reported to have 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.”
(8) It breeds other sins. In Reno, Nevada, the police department estimates that 75% of their embezzlement cases are related to gambling. Gambling corrupts and corrodes character. Dishonesty and deceit are its fruits, and a tree is known by its fruits (Matt. 7:16-18). As drug addicts resort to stealing and prostitution to support their habit, so do gamblers use vice to sustain their habit. When it is observed that 75% of all murders involve the use of alcohol, people are often quick to condemn drinking. Well, if 75% of embezzlement cases involve gambling in Reno, should one let gambling stand without opposition?
(9) It destroys the home. Nearly every gospel preacher or marriage counselor has seen the adverse affects of gambling on a marriage or home. One beset by alcohol evilly affects others and destroys his family, and so does the gambler. In Reno, Nevada, for example, there is an organization called Gam Anon for families that are torn asunder by gambling. Surely, anything that besmirches the sanctity of the home is wrong.
(10) It puts one with evil companions. It is a generally accepted fact that organized crime profits from most public gambling. Gambling attracts evil men like a dead animal lures a vulture. Gamblers are not known as spiritually minded people. Gamblers are identified with drinking and immoralities of all kinds. “Evil companionships corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), and Paul said, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).
You Categorize Gambling
Let us put the ball in your court. Paul said that we are to “deny (1) ungodliness, and (2) worldly lusts," and that "we should live (1) soberly, (2) righteously, (3) godly in this present world" (Titus 2:11, 12). In which category would you place gambling? Would you think it strange if you should see a Christian whom you greatly admire engaged in gambling? You be the judge.
What About “Innocent” Bets?
The question always arises. “I know it’s wrong to gamble, but at the office we match pennies to see who buys the coffee;” or, “We have a little ‘pool’ for every heavyweight title fight and the World Series. Nobody puts in more than a dollar. It’s harmless. Is that wrong?” Gamblers Anonymous, the organization designed to help compulsive gamblers, urges its members not to gamble on who buys the coffee. They see a danger. The fruits of gambling do not warrant even a little bet. Do not take a chance that a little gambling will not hurt. A defense of “innocent, little bets” is like condemning alcoholism and then having someone attempt to justify “just one beer after work.” Christians should shun the very appearance of evil (Prov. 1:10; 1 Thess. 5:21). This means do not bet on gambling, not even a little. You will be the loser both here and hereafter.
1. Define “gambling.”
2. List some things which are not gambling, but which are used to justify gambling.
3. List several scriptural objections to gambling.
4. Where do you place gambling - in worldliness or spiritual?
5. Does the fact that religious groups sanctify gambling make it right in the sight of God?
6. Does the fact that government legalizes gambling make it right in the sight of God?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 20, pp. 330-332, May 17, 1979