Should Christians Gamble? Don’t Bet On It.

A few years ago, during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I noticed the sign of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Mentor, Ohio. It displayed two lines of letters that are permanently etched in my memory:

Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Bingo Thurs. Night at 7:00

I am still unsure whether to chuckle or grimace at the ironic combination. Yet, the lines raise questions that are of great importance to Bible-believers, even those in fundamental churches: Can “the way of the Lord” and gambling coexist? Is gambling a legitimate activity for Christians? Does the fact that gambling is legal make it moral? What; if anything, does the Bible say about gambling? What is society’s view of gambling, and how should that affect the church? These questions have never been more relevant to Christians. Let’s begin by considering society’s view of gambling, and then we’ll compare that view with Scripture’s.

American Culture Has Embraced Gambling
Anti-gambling laws are quickly going the way of prohibition. Gambling is one of many “taboos” that were once unspeakable but are now an accepted part of American culture. Gambling is here, and it is here to stay. Our culture provides a buffet of legal ways to separate people from their money:

  • Casino Gambling — This is probably the first image that comes to mind when you think of gambling: a dark room filled with cards, dice, poker chips, roulette wheels and slot machines. Casino gambling, once limited to the “twin sin cities” of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, is now available from coast to coast. Entire cities have been changed (gambling proponents say “revitalized”) by legalized gambling, from small mountain towns like Cripple Creek, Colorado, to major metropolises like Detroit. Indian reservations are raking in millions of dollars through their casinos. Casino gambling is big money. Yet, it is naive to think that casinos are the extent of America’s obsession with gambling. Unfortunately, they are only the beginning.
  • Sports Gambling — Sporting events have always been surrounded by wagers and bookies, but never to as great a degree as they are today. States (like Ohio) that forbid casinos often welcome horse tracks and dog tracks. The sports network ESPN now covers “The World Series of Poker” as a legitimate sporting event. “Handicappers” (professionals who shrewdly make money by teaching others how to lose it betting on sports) are now given the respectability of appearing on local radio programs and national television shows. The “odds” of every sporting event are printed in the morning paper. If wagers are illegal in your state, you can still gamble money away on the internet or with and “off-shore bookie” from the comfort of your own home. Gambling used to be condemned by the sports world; the two are now inseparable.
  • State-sponsored Gambling — The lottery is the most alluring type of gambling for many Christians. Deacons and Sunday School teachers who would never spend a weekend in Vegas will gladly drop an extra dollar for a lottery ticket at their local gas station or grocery store. We are bombarded with advertisements for state lotteries. Daily lotto numbers are as much a part of local news broadcasts as weather and sports. Sadly, the degree to which America is addicted to gambling is perhaps seen most clearly in this astounding turn of events: state governments are now competing with Caesar’s Palace for your gambling buck!
  • Charitable Gambling — The lottery is but one of many forms of “gambling for a good
  • cause.” Churches (especially Catholic churches) often provide a weekly Bingo night and (if you’re lucky) an annual Casino night. Little-league teams, schools and the local YMCA sponsor raffles. What is a raffle? Simply, a legal and local form of gambling.

What a company of tempters: big-business casinos, bookies, state representatives, churches and even children are enticing people to “place a bet” And people are responding in droves: old and young, male and female, atheist and Christian (the significant difference being the tithe on monies won). Yes. American culture has embraced gambling. However…

The Word of God Still Forbids Gambling
Although you will not find the words “gambling,” “casino” or “lottery” in your concordance, the Bible does indeed address the issue of gambling. Scripture presents a variety of reasons why gambling has no place in the life of the Christian. In presenting some of those reasons, I will borrow the line of thought presented on a humorous bumper sticker “The lottery is a tax on people who can’t do math.” I suggest the following six bumper stickers addressing Christians and gambling:

Gambling is great for Christians who are covetous not content” —The lure of gambling is that it offers a legal way to get something for nothing (though it usually returns nothing for something). It preys on “the love of money” which “is the root of all (sorts of) evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). The MGM Grand Casino in Detroit promises “millions of dollars in cash giveaways.” Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas boasts that it “has been the site of more million-dollar- plus slot machine jackpots than any casino in the world.” State lotteries make the same appeal to greed with games like Ohio’s “MegaMillions and “Cash Explosion.” The luxury of the casino and the appeal of the lottery ads promise a chance to “live the good life” or achieve financial freedom. The result of these deceptive appeals is that those who can afford it least spend the most. Ten minutes near a gas station’s cash register will tell you that. Gambling is rooted in covetousness and greed, and is therefore a violation of the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt no covet” (Exodus 20:17).

“Gambling is great for Christians who want profit without work.” —God commanded the first man He created to live by the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19). The New Testament concurs, teaching that one who would not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). However, gambling is the oldest “money-for- nothing” scheme in existence. It is the idle hope of the sluggard who lacks a biblical work ethic. Gambling advertisements frequently mock the biblical ideal of faithful work for fair pay. Yet, those who can look past the glitter and lights of the casino and into the Word of God will see that “get-rich-quick” schemes bring poverty and sin: “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase” (Proverbs 13:11). ‘He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough. A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent…. He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him” (Proverbs 28:19-20, 22). Scripture commands industriousness and diligence. Gambling undermines both.

“Gambling is great for Christians who are poor stewards of what God has provided.” — Most Christians who gamble don’t lose their homes. They do lose money, however, even if it is only a dollar on a lottery ticket. Scripture repeatedly condemns poor stewardship of what God has entrusted to us. Most notably, Proverbs contrasts the careless sluggard with the diligent man: “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious” (Proverbs 12:27). “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spinet it up” (Proverbs 21:20).

Some will protest that it is not poor stewardship to spend a few dollars on recreational gambling.After all, it is only a few dollars spent on entertainment! Sure… and liquor costs only a few dollars. Pornography costs only a few dollars. No one denies that both liquor and pornography are used for entertainment, and that rather inexpensively. The issue is not the amount spent, but the activity engaged in. It is poor stewardship — it is sin! — to spend even one penny that God provides on what God’s Word forbids.

“Gambling is great for Christians who don’t love others.” — Any game that creates a winner also creates a loser. For you to win money through gambling requires that many others have lost money. A look at your state’s budget or at a casino’s grandeur will tell you that the tempters are not the ones losing money. Therefore, any dollar you win gambling is being taken from the pocket of a gambling loser. To be sure, some of it comes from the few “Michael Jordan’s” and “William Bennett’s” of the world who won’t miss it. Most of it, however, comes from the single mother, the unemployed father, the destitute senior at the next table… or the next slot machine…or the next gas station. Statistics indicate that more than half of casino revenues come from people who are addicted to gambling.2 The National Gambling Impact Study Commission reports that those whose annual income is less than $10,000 spend more on lottery tickets than any other group.3 Still another study claims that the average debt of those being treated for gambling addiction
ranges from $18,000 to $50, 000. Add to that the devastation gambling brings to marriages and families and it is no wonder that the National Council of Problem Gambling reports that 20% of compulsive gamblers attempt suicide.5 Gamblers and gambling establishments would do well to take heed to Scripture’s waning about profiting at the expense of the destitute: “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want” (Proverbs 22:16).

Scripture repeatedly commands Christians to help the poor, the widow, the orphan. Gambling exploits these most vulnerable members of our society. If you gamble and win, you are taking money that someone else cannot afford to lose. If you gamble and you are still supporting an industry that is destroying individuals and families. Gambling is a catalyst for child abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and bankruptcy. U.S. News & World Report states that the crime rate in gambling communities is nearly double the national average.’ Contrary to the spin of gambling lobbyists, the gaming industry hurts people in a variety of ways. There are no “winners.” And your participation helps the devastation happen. So much for “loving thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

“Gambling is great for Christians who love the world.” — The gambling environment — with its deception, sensuality and alcohol — offers nothing edifying to the Christian. Rather, it Is a “who’s who” of 1 John 2:16’s list of lusts: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” The previous verse commands God’s people not to love the world or the things in it, lest we betray a heart that desires the wicked world rather than God. Gambling is worldly to the core. It is unconscionable for a Christian to spend even a dollar in support of an industry that is consistently accompanied by drunkenness, prostitution, and organized crime.

“Gambling is great for Christians who don’t fear God.” The biblical concept of the fear of God includes absolute tm. Gambling reveals lack of faith in God. Your hope for getting out of debt is not in the organized crime of gambling it is in Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). The promise of financial security will not be met by the state lottery, but by the God Who has committed Himself to “supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Scripture commands you to rely on God for provision, not chance.

The biblical concept of the fear of God also includes humble reverence. Gambling demonstrates that you don’t fear God — you don’t live life with the awareness that God is ever- present, allknowing, all-seeing…and holy! Proverbs 16:6 teaches that “by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” For a variety of reasons, gambling is “evil,” and those who claim to fear God should have nothing to do with it.

Oscar Wilde made the following observation: “Horse sense is what keeps horses from betting on what people will do.” Gambling is unwise for the lost man; it is ungodly for the saved man. If you have not gambled, don’t. If you have gambled, confess it as sin and forsake it (Proverbs 28:13). Perhaps you sinned in ignorance: you can make no such claim now.

Is gambling legal? Yes. Does that make it moral? No. Is it an acceptable practice for Christians, even on occasion? Absolutely not. What is the biblical response to gambling? Total abstinence. So enjoy the falls at Niagara, but not the casinos. Give your dollar bill to a fundamental church, not a charity raffle. Match wits with friends over a Final Four bracket if you like, but don’t bet on it.

February 2004


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