Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth”
Our Theme – Gambling violates God’s desires for us to be good stewards and to treat others with love and respect.
The gambling industry around the world is huge; however, the biggest market is the United States, where gamblers lost a staggering $119 billion in 2013. That’s an outrageous amount of money. It’s more money than Bill Gates has (with $72 billion) or Warren Buffett (with $58 billion), and only $11 billion less than the two men put together. So why do so many people gamble? After all, everyone knows that the odds are stacked against gamblers, whether they’re betting on slot machines, horse racing, football, roulette, bingo, or lotteries.
Even the games where it is possible for a highly skilled player to consistently make money, blackjack and poker, for example are big losers for the vast majority of players. And why do some players — problem gamblers, around 3.8 percent of the population, end up losing vast amounts of money, going into debt, and sometimes even losing their families and homes? Different individuals gamble for a mixture of different reasons. The reasons are subtly different for each individual, but are usually a mixture of the following categories:
(1) Escapism, Entertainment & Boredom
The places that people go to gamble — like casinos, hotels, card rooms, bookmakers, and even online gaming websites — offer an escape from everyday life, and the opportunity to do something different, usually with a possibility of hitting a large payday. The vast majority of people who play the lottery don’t win, but they all get the opportunity to dream about what they would do if they did win. In this sense, gambling can be seen as a form of entertainment, and those multi-billion dollar losses are the cost of being entertained, just as people pay to watch sports, listen to music, or play computer games.
(2) Social Activity
Gambling is a deep rooted part of American culture —80 percent of Americans gamble at least once per year. Gambling with friends and family — whether that’s in a casino in Vegas, or a card game at home, or making football or basketball bets among work colleagues —is widespread.
(3) Excitement & Thrill
The sense of anticipation and risk creates an adrenaline rush and the payoff releases a surge of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the feeling of pleasure, and even elation. When you receive a hug from a loved one, dopamine levels rise; when you engage in sex, dopamine levels spike; when you win a bet, they shoot up as well.
A casino roll out the red carpet and dish out complimentary drinks, free stays in suites, shopping vouchers, and other gifts for big-time gamblers. That can be a huge self-esteem boost. So too can giving away winnings to friends or family, tipping service staff large amounts, or making gifts to charity.
That covers some of the behavior of many casual gamblers, but for problem bettors, the issue is often addiction. The primary addiction, however, may not always be to the rush of winning —some research suggests that gamblers get the biggest kick from coming close to winning, and then losing. And some gamblers may be addicted to the aforementioned escapism or self-esteem highs. The global gambling industry forecasts that betting losses will continue to rise and they’re probably right. After all, it’s been common knowledge for a very long time that most people lose at gambling in the long run. That’s what keeps casinos in business, and yet, people keep keeping them in business.
HISTORY OF GAMBLING
Historically, American culture immersed itself in three waves of gambling. The first wave was the colonial period through the early 1800’s. Lotteries were used to fund some of the founding universities, hospitals, and even churches in New England.
The second wave was the post-Civil War period through the early 1900’s. State lotteries in the Deep South were conducted to pay for war repairs; and gambling in Old West saloons, gold rush towns, and urban speakeasies had its day. Gambling during these periods was gradually curtailed when graft, greed, corruption, crime, suicides, prostitution, and other social variations associated with gambling became too great to ignore. But while these early experiences with gambling eventually spawned sustained opposition, it wasn’t enough to squelch gambling forever.
The third wave was the mid to late 1900’s. This wave of gambling is variously considered to have begun with the legalization of gambling in Nevada in 1931, the resurrection of state lotteries beginning in the 1960’s, or the passage of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. Pick your poison; but whenever, gambling by the 1990’s became a national occurrence.
There used to be only two places you could go in the United States to gamble legally in casinos: Nevada and Atlantic City. Now there are only two states left in which legalized commercial gambling is still barred: Hawaii and Utah. In Hawaii the state’s status as an island paradise has helped hold off numerous attempts at legalization – even bingo is illegal. In Utah, the Mormon influence has kept the vice away.
Global land-based casinos expected a gross win of around 357 billion U.S. dollars from gamblers in 2015. Social casinos gamers are also on the rise – the internet casino market was forecasted to grow to 3.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2015, from 2.2 billion just two years earlier.
PERSPECTIVES ON GAMBLING – TWO DISTRACTING FOCAL POINTS – (Numbers & Devices)
Two issues always seem to get in the way during discussion on gambling: first, focusing on numbers – dollars, percentages, and more – and, second, focusing on the device, like cards or dice.
The problem with numbers is that they’re overwhelming. You could accurately cite numbers endlessly, which might be fine for finance people or researchers, but the numbers don’t tell you much about the good, bad, and ugly of gambling. Sure, you can note how much has been lost or the number of bankruptcies in an area with casino’s; however, the numbers don’t truly tell the story of the broken promises, dreams and lives, which is always gambling’s final chapter.
And focusing on the device is distracting. The device isn’t essentially bad. Cards, dice, pennies, dollar bills, horses, greyhound dogs, all sometime instruments of gambling, are no more evil than baseball, football, or golf, also instruments of gambling. The morality or principles of gambling, the prudence of gambling, the entertainment of gambling, none of these can be determined by dwelling upon the device, and for that matter, you can engage with any of these devices without gambling.
TWO MISUNDERSTANDINGS– (Lots & Commandments)
Gambling is not, in the words of a newspaper columnist, favorable entertainment. Rather, gambling is immoral because it is a wrong use of the resources God has entrusted to us. Questions about whether gambling is right or wrong, however, remains. Is gambling a sin? Is it a sin in some circumstances but not in others? Is gambling harmless entertainment that just sometimes gets out of hand? All of these questions can be answered, but not without reference to the Bible. God gave us His Word in propositional structure so that it may be read reasonably and applied rationally. The Christian’s task is to apply God’s moral will to the questions of our age.
(1) Misunderstanding Concerning Lots
Casting lots involved methods of making blind decisions so that no one could claim the decision was unfair or biased in any way. People often attempt to justify gambling by pointing to the practice of casting lots. They say that casting lots is gambling, that God allowed it, and, therefore, that gambling is okay.
It is true that the Israelites used lots to determine Divine will. Lots were used in the Old Testament to make decisions (1 Chronicles 24:5, 31); determine the assignment of land (Numbers 26:55; 33:54); identify the man, Jonah, who caused the storm (Jonah 1:7), and many more examples. No luck was involved in the Biblical casting of lots. God directed the decision-making process. Casting lots recognized the sovereignty of God in all things, including the lay of the lot.
Though casting lots is mentioned seventy times in the Old Testament and seven times in the New Testament, it was not gambling. The practice could not be used to justify the idea of gambling. Even the pagan soldiers who used casting lots for Christ’s garment were not gambling. No soldier placed anything in a pot. Nothing was offered at risk with the hope of gain. No one was going to win at another’s expense. They were simply trying to determine who got to keep the robe. This example of casting lots is more like to modern-day drawing straws than it is gambling.
Casting lots placed nothing at risk for an outcome and depended upon the will of God for its result. However, gambling places value at risk for an outcome and depends upon chance, fate, luck for its result. The former acknowledged God; the latter ignores Him.
(2) Misunderstanding concerning commandments
While casting lots is incorrectly cited in attempts to justify gambling, so is the absence of a Biblical injunction against gambling. This is worth considering. We must be careful not to invent sins, a practice of legalists and cults.
Reaching back a few thousand years, believers and nonbelievers alike have wished for and tried to add their own version of an 11th commandment. Most people agree it would be very convenient if God had added one more command to the Ten Commandments to give definite instructions about something questionable. However, that didn’t happen and there is no 11th commandment stating, “You shall not gamble.” Scripture does not explicitly condemn gambling.
Not having that extra, clear commandment is challenging. It creates a bit of conflict and could be called the in-the-world – not-of-the-world conflict. We live in the world physically and culturally but are commanded by God to not be of the world spiritually, philosophically, and at times culturally (John 17:13-19). This conflict follows us our entire lives as we strive to determine how to live in this world as a believer.
We’re also commanded by God both to make moral judgments in our lives and to leave room for others to practice God-given Christian liberty (Romans 14). Determining what is a Christian liberty and what is sinful can sometimes be difficult. But despite this difficulty, God charged us with being obedient to His moral will and living righteously (1 Peter 1:16). He gave us His Word and all things that pertain unto life and godliness so that we are not lacking the opportunity to live pleasing to the Lord (2 Peter 1:3). God’s Word is true for all times, countries, and cultures. It is eternally contemporary and always relevant.
God didn’t give us an 11th commandment about gambling; however, He did give us an entire Bible that teaches us principles we can apply in developing a godly Christian lifestyle. This is why we can conclude in good conscience, for example, that human slavery is a horrendous evil even if God never directly banned it in the Bible. In a host of Scripture passages He proclaimed the value and beauty of every created human being. He said to love others based on the truth that He is love. We don’t have to wonder about God’s view of human servitude. In good conscience we can also come to the conclusion that gambling is a sin even though it has been legalized, in all but 2 states.
THE MORALITY OF GAMBLING
While the Scripture does not specifically address the subject of gambling, it provides us with a number of principles that can guide us on this issue. The Bible does not say, “You shall not gamble,” or “gambling is wrong,” but it does teach us that while we might be free to do many things, all things are not profitable and we should never be brought under the control or power of anything other than the reign of Christ in our lives (1 Corinthians 10:23 puts it this way, “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is construction”).
What would the Bible say about casinos and lotteries? Casinos use all sorts of marketing schemes to entice gamblers to risk as much money as possible. They often offer inexpensive or even free alcohol, which encourages drunkenness, and thereby a decreased ability to make wise decisions. Everything in a casino is perfectly rigged for taking money in large sums and giving nothing in return, except for brief and empty pleasures.
Lotteries attempt to portray themselves as a way to fund education and/or social programs. However, studies show that lottery participants are usually those who can least afford to be spending money on lottery tickets. The allure of “getting rich quick” is too great a temptation to resist for those who are desperate. The chances of winning are extremely small, which results in many peoples’ lives being shattered.
CAN LOTTERY PROCEEDS PLEASE GOD?
Many people claim to be playing the lottery or gambling so they can give the money they won to the church or to some other good cause. While this may be a good motive; however, the truth is that few use gambling winnings for godly purposes. Studies show the vast majority of lottery winners are in an even worse financial situation a few years after winning a jackpot than they were before. Few, if any, truly give the money to a good cause.
Walking down the terminal of O’Hare Airport, she carried a large cardboard replica of the $3,000,000 check she had won from a slot machine in Las Vegas. Her children had given her the trip. She had spent only a few dollars on slot machine when she hit the jackpot. She was a winner. “It’s not going to change my life,” she said. “I’m going to pay off my bills. Give some of the money to my children. Set up some college funds for my grandkids. I’ll still go to work. I’ll go back to Vegas and play a few more slot machines. But it’s not going to change my life.”
We all say, “Yeah, right.” And for just a moment we think: Why couldn’t it be me? I could use a few extra dollars. We could use a new car. We could pay off the house, set aside some money for our children’s college fund, and give some to the church for the new building. Why couldn’t it be me? From the advertisements, one would believe that gamblers are white people who spend just a few dollars on the lottery or the slot machines. People who can afford to blow a few dollars, to spend a week of recreation in Las Vegas. It’s not a problem or an addiction to them. It’s just entertainment, a means of passing the time. As in many cases, if we made our judgments based solely on advertising, we would be sadly misinformed.
The typical gambler is someone like Bill or Sally, a worker who’s barely making ends meet. They’re not bankrupt, but are in serious financial difficulty. Their married with children. Those children frequently go to bed hungry because they have spent dollars intended for food on lottery tickets, because they had a hunch that they would hit the big one. Recently both Bill and Sally won a $1,000 lottery prize. Both threw a party for their neighbors. Amid all the excitement, the lucky winners never mentioned that over the past few years they had spent in excess of $8,000 on lottery tickets.
God does not need our money to fund His mission in the world. Proverbs 13:11says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” God is sovereign and will provide for our needs and the needs of the church through honest means. Would God be honored by receiving donated drug money or money stolen in a bank robbery? Of course not. Neither does God need or want money that was “stolen” from the poor in the temptation for riches.
First Timothy 6:10 tell us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” and Hebrews 13:5 declares, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Matthew 6:24 proclaims, “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.”
Thus, gambling, like many things in life, can become addictive. Further, it becomes a means of getting rich quick or of seeking fortune apart from constructive labor or work that is truly beneficial to society. God has given us each abilities and with training we can become productive members of society and of the body of Christ. Gambling seeks to bypass this process. Even though the Bible does not directly address gambling, we can derive a number of principles from Scripture, such as:
DENIAL OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
Frankly, there is no such thing as luck. Things don’t just happen. Nothing happens outside of God’s will and character. So belief in God not only dispels any idea of luck, it also rejects any idea of chance, which stands in direct opposition to a purposeful creation.
God is in control of life, down to the number of hairs on your head (Luke 12:6, 7). God expects us to worship Him as the sovereign over all. Counting on luck and on beating the odds is essentially idolatry. No doubt that believers who gamble will occasionally win. But winning a bet or hitting a jackpot is not an indication of God’s approval of gambling. God brings rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), but the unjust is still answerable for his/her sin.
The Christian who wins a hand in a card game is still answerable for his violation of God’s sovereignty. God’s purpose for allowing the believer to win may never be apparent to the believer, but God’s displeasure with the believer’s gambling is never in question. And God’s hand of discipline is the hand the believer should be most concerned about facing (Hebrews 12:5, 6).
God is Creator. He gives with an expectation of accountability, so we should live with an anticipation of responsibility. It is to God that we give account for every use of our time, talent, and money. The things we own are granted to us for a season. Whether they are toys or tools, we are responsible to God for their use. People say, it’s my money. I can do with it what I want. Not really. God owns all things but places them into our care for right uses to benefit us and to glorify Him (Psalm 50:9-12).
When people gamble, they engage a system that views itself as entertainment. But unlike most other forms of entertainment, gambling creates a host of negative social consequences. Wholesome entertainment, or recreation, contributes to mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Gambling only debilitates, as it is a vice that sucks the dollars and sometimes the life out of everyone it touches.
Gambling a little bit, maybe a few dollars for a lottery ticket, isn’t a way around the stewardship violation. The morality of a behavior is not determined by the size of the stakes. You cannot find moral reasoning like that in Scripture. God requires stewards to be faithful, leaving no loopholes for seemingly insignificant lapses (1 Corinthians 4:2).
Gambling is bred by the sin of covetousness. It’s about greed, the desire to get something for nothing, something that belongs to someone else. The late D. James Kennedy called gambling institutionalized covetousness. If you doubt this concept, take the money out of the casino and see how many people continue to go there. Gambling is a classic example of Satan’s use of worldly allurements tempting people to sin.
Something-for-nothing enchantments, ornate casinos, graceful horses, exciting gaming tables, challenging slot machines, bight-colored lights, noise, but no clocks or windows: gambling is a spiritual and financial time bomb in a very pretty package. Thus, Gambling feeds covetousness, the opposite of God’s call for contentment (Philippians 4:11, 12; 1 Timothy 6:6-11). Gambling goes to the heart of human nature, and no matter how much we have, we always want more.
As with all types of data, certain trends or patterns of behavior start to surface within a given population. Gambling addiction statistics are no different. According to the University of New York, some of the more prevalent gambling trends show that:
(1) The likelihood of developing a gambling addiction increases 23-fold for people affected by alcohol use disorders.
(2) Over 80 percent of American adults gamble on a yearly basis.
(3) Three to five gamblers out of every hundred struggle with a gambling problem.
(4) As many as 750,000 young people, ages 14 to 21 has a gambling addiction.
Gambling is potentially habitual, what Pascal called a fatal fascination, like a moth for the candle. Gambling is so potentially habitual that we’ve developed terms like obsessive, compulsive, and pathological to describe the problem. Yet, God tells us we are not to allow our minds, bodies, or souls to be brought under the power of anything other than the Spirit of God (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:37, 38).
Some Christians argue that gambling is threatening only if it’s abused; therefore, people may participate in social, casual, or legalized commercial gambling without detrimental effects. They claim that a few dollars here or there won’t destroy their solvency or character. Gambling, they say, is a matter of Christian liberty. However, the Scriptures say otherwise. And given gambling’s history, the burden of proof for this argument lies with the Christian gambler.
In addressing Christian liberty, the apostle Paul observed, All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not (1 Corinthians 10:32). Paul also said all things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any (6:12). So even if gambling were a matter of Christian liberty, which it is not, the facts that it is not beneficial and that it could be addictive would be reasons not to pursue it. We are not to partake of anything that would surrender the rational and reasonable control of our own actions.
GAMBLING DESTROYS THE WORK ETHIC
Two key biblical passages deal with the work ethic. In Colossians 3:23, 24, the Apostle Paul says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” And in 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 10, he says, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example … For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
The Twentieth Century Fund research group commented, “Gambling’s get-rich-quick appeal appears to mock capitalism’s core values: disciplined work habits, thrift, prudence, adherence to routine, and the relationship between effort and reward.” These core values of the work ethic are all part of the free enterprise system and are part of the Christian life. Gambling corrupts these values and replaces them with greed and selfishness. Rather than depending upon hard work, gamblers depend instead upon luck and chance.
GAMBLING DESTROYS FAMILIES
Gambling is a major cause of family neglect. Many of the social costs associated with gambling come from its mindset. As people get caught up in a gambling frenzy, they begin to neglect their families. Money spent on lottery tickets or at horse racing tracks is frequently not risk capital but is income that should be spent on family needs. In 1 Timothy 5:8, Paul says that a person who refuses to care for his family is worse than an infidel. Parents must provide for their children 2 Corinthians 12:14 and eat the bread of their labors 2 Thessalonians 3:12. Gambling tempts people to neglect their God-mandated responsibility to care for their families, and these families often end up on welfare.
THE CHRISTIAN AND GAMBLING CLOSING THOUGHTS
A comprehensive definition of gambling would be as follows: “Gambling is the betting of money, or something of value, on the outcome of an artificially created chance or uncertain event, whereby the prize money is not determined by value, service or goodwill but rather by chance, in such a way that the gain of the winners is at the expense of the losers.” With that in mind, how should the Christian feel about gambling? Here are a couple of suggestions
First, let us be careful to live in a manner consistent with our Christian faith. That simply means living with the Bible as our guide. Gambling is based on a set of pagan presuppositions, all of which are contrary to the Christian faith. If we truly believe that God has promised to supply all our needs, then we don’t need to gamble in order to help him out.
Am I thereby suggesting that if you put a quarter in a slot machine when you go through Las Vegas on vacation, you have sinned against God? Let me put it this way. The sin may be a small one, but little sins often add up to big transgressions. Concerning that hypothetical quarter, at least this much is true: You have wasted your money and your time. You have also given in to the “get rich quick” temptation. You may also be leading someone else astray by your thoughtless example (and they may spend far more than your quarter). At the very least, you are acting in a manner inconsistent with the Christian faith you profess to believe. The same is true for spending a dollar to buy a lottery ticket. In both cases, the money is not the issue. Great principles are at stake whether you spend a lot or a little.
Second, let us ask God to teach us contentment with what we already have. This is the central issue in the gambling debate. Do we believe that God will take care of all our needs all the time? If the answer is yes, then we don’t need to help him out by gambling. If the answer is no, then we’ve got problems a lot bigger than whether or not to buy a lottery ticket.
God has promised to take care of his children. And he has done it over and over again. What we truly need, he has promised to supply—through miraculous means if necessary. The least child of God is in better shape than the biggest high roller in Las Vegas. His or her luck will run out; the promises of God last forever.
In some ways, the question about gambling is like the question about social drinking. It is an area of freedom about which the Bible does not lay down an absolute rule. Yet, we are not left without Biblical guidelines. There is more than enough clear teaching in the Bible to help us make a wise choice. With that in mind, let us renew our trust in God and leave the gambling to someone else.