Vol. 9, No. 4
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Gambling is an ever increasingly popular pursuit throughout America. "An estimated 57 percent of adult Americans gambled regularly in 1954. …By the mid 60's it was reported that 'Gambling is the biggest business in the nation…'" (Nichols 25). Nearly 32 billion dollars was spent in 1998 on lottery tickets in the United States (Gerstein et al. 32). Annually, 90 million gamblers visit U.S. casinos, and gamblers in America wagered on all forms of legal gambling 482 billion dollars (Burleson 4). Gamblers lost 20 billion dollars at Casinos in 1998 (Gerstein et al. 33). "Presently , gambling in some form is legal in all but 3 states, casinos or casino-style games are available in 21 states, and 37 states have lotteries" ("Executive Summary" 1).
Just what is gambling? How do dictionaries define gambling? The meaning for the verb "gamble" includes: "to stake something on a contingency," and the meaning of the noun "gamble" includes: "the playing of a game of chance for stakes" (Merriam). Another dictionary defines "gambling" as "the act of playing for stakes in the hope of winning (including the payment of a price for a chance to win a prize)" ("Gambling" emphasis added). The 1998 Gambling Impact and Behavior Study defined gambling thus: "We defined 'gambling' as placing a bet on the outcome of a race or game of skill or chance, or playing a game--including for charity--in which one might win or lose money" (Gerstein and Toce 7 emphasis added).
"Gambling is getting--or trying to get--something for nothing, without rendering service, or exchanging goods for the value received. This makes gambling essentially stealing, a form of robbery" (Nichols 25). "…[G]ambling is not wrong because it is taking a chance, but because of the strong covetous desire to take another's possessions without giving him a fair return" (Jim E. Waldron qtd. in Bland 251). "…[I]n principle, risking a penny is no different from risking millions" (Cooper 20). Amusingly but accurately someone has observed that "lotteries are 'a tax on people who aren't good at math'" (Elkins, "We Saw" 2 emphasis added).
In what ways does gambling manifest itself? "Paying a fee to play a game of Bingo (for example) in the hope of winning a great deal more, is equivalent to 'betting' the amount of your fee against the prize. No goods are produced, no service is rendered; yet a risk which did not exist is created" (Nichols 25). "A mother who wins a vase at bridge should not be surprised if her son wins (or loses!) $1,000 at cards! She taught him to be a gambler!" (Nichols 29). Wayne Jackson lists a number of the popular ways to gamble. "Gambling takes many forms: card games, dice, numbers, betting on elections, buying sweepstake tickets, betting on horse racing, slot machines, betting on sporting events, various types of sports pools, punch boards, bingo (for money or prizes), buying tickets in raffles, betting on recreational activities, matching for cokes, and even pitching pennies" (qtd. in Bland 252).
When is winning something not gambling? Simply because the future result of something is unknown or by chance, of itself does not equate to gambling. Gambling requires a stake (the amount of which being immaterial) to create an unnecessary risk, hoping for one's gain and another's loss. Therefore, the selection of tribal lands among the Israelites by lot (Numbers 26:55), the assignment of priestly Temple duties by lot (1 Chronicles 24:5) and the selection of a replacement apostle by chance (Acts 1:26) do not correspond to the definition of gambling, especially when one considers God's direct involvement in these particular matters (Proverbs 16:33) (Elkins, "What the Bible Teaches" 38).
Flavil Nichols speaks to some contemporary lots or chances that do not constitute gambling.
One who receives a prize for having the free winning "ticket" is not gambling thereby: the merchant receives his publicity in the advertising effort, in which no risk is created or taken. This is also true where one merely "registers" at the door, or where tickets are given with each purchase. But "buying a chance" is tantamount to 'betting' the price of the ticket whether it be little or much-that the stub drawn will have your number on it! That is gambling! (26)
Consider how sly and persistent that promoters of gambling are. The devil and his associates never want the public to see sin for what it really is. "Several years ago  the multi-billion dollar-a-year gambling industry set about to change its image. At the Fourth National Conference on Public Gaming, keynoter Raymond Blanchard declared, 'We've got to convince people we're not in the gambling business. We're in the public revenue business'" (Elkins, "What the Bible Teaches" 36).
The new face on lying when it comes to politics and vices is "spin." Satan has his public relations experts or "spin doctors" working overtime to hide the hideous nature of such things as drinking, fornication, adultery and gambling with an appealing façade or false face.
What's wrong with gambling? Gambling ignores one's responsibility to be a good steward for God (Matthew 25:14-30). God expects especially Christians to be good and faithful stewards of the material blessings entrusted to them (Luke 12:42; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Peter 4:10). One day each of us will have to give an account to God for our stewardship (Luke 16:1-2). Whether we like to admit it or not, we and all we possess really belongs to God (Psalm 24:1; 50:10-12; Haggai 2:8). "Gambling encourages a reckless approach to life. The true gambler has to accept the 'easy come, easy go' philosophy. This type of philosophy is in open contradiction to Christian stewardship" (Jones 29).
Gambling undermines the work ethic. Our Creator put mankind to work, beginning with Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). God heightened mankind's labor for his sustenance after the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:19). God included the work ethic in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:9). A person must rely on honest labor rather than "vanity" ("emptiness" Biblesoft's) for a successful livelihood (Proverbs 13:11). The work ethic, which is of divine origin, appears forcefully also in the New Testament (Ephesians 4:28). We have also the noble example of a proper work ethic in the person of the apostle Paul (Acts 20:34-35). The apostle Paul by inspiration specified how people are supposed to seek gain and sustenance in life (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Gambling brings unjust gain. God decries "unjust gain" (Proverbs 28:6-8). The same Hebrew word translated "unjust gain" appears as "increase" in Ezekiel 22:12, followed by condemnation in the next verse for "dishonest gain."
Gambling is a form of covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Coveting was forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17). The New Testament also forbids coveting (Romans 13:9; Ephesians 5:3). "To 'covet' implies eager or inordinate longing for something which belongs to another" (Nichols 27). A biblical definition of covetousness appears in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Gambling focuses one's affection on the material things of this earth instead of focusing one's attention on things above (Colossians 3:1-3).
Gambling breaks the second "greatest commandment." One cannot properly love another human being while trying to take as much of his material blessings as he can get away with (Matthew 22:37-39). Love does not try to harm other people (Romans 13:10). Gambling hardly enacts the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12). Gambling does not seek the betterment of one's fellow man, but his ruin (Philippians 2:3-4). Christians are supposed to be harmless and especially prefer brethren rather than be adversarial toward people in general and Christians in particular (Matthew 10:16; Philippians 2:15; Romans 12:10). "Gambling encourages a callousness toward the interest and well-being of others" (Jones 29).
Gambling bears evil fruit (Matthew 7:18-20). Gambling often robs one's family of the wages needed for its physical welfare. Gamblers associate closely with people engaged in other sins of the flesh and likely will themselves indulge additional sins of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). Gambling breeds crime: theft, robbery, prostitution, etc. (1 Corinthians 15:33 ASV). One cannot glorify God by gambling whereas honest work is one way in which one can glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Gambling is addictive. Especially Christians must be under control, not addicted to anything (1 Corinthians 6:12).
The Internet is an effective tool used by Satan in promoting betting on sports. In an article written by Tom Weir in USA Today (Aug. 22, 2003), it was reported that the click of a mouse and the use of a credit card are responsible for the rapid increase in gambling addictions in teenagers and college students. In 1997, there were twenty-five gambling Web sites, but today there are roughly 1,800. There is even a national hotline with counselors for problem gamblers. (McWhorter 1219)
Especially the Internet has exponentially increased gambling: "Advances in computer and telecommunications technology have increased the availability of gambling. New technology holds the potential to change the subjective experience of gambling and to increase how often, how much, and how long people gamble" ("Executive Summary" 3).
Gambling tarnishes ones otherwise good influence. Gambling runs counter to providing things honest in the sight of all men (Romans 12:17 ASV; 2 Corinthians 8:21). Especially Christians must be careful not to provide opportunity for enemies of Christianity to speak reproachfully of it (1 Timothy 5:14). Take, for instance, Jesus Christ as our perfect example (1 Peter 2:21). "Who-by the longest stretch of imagination-can conceive of Christ's betting on a rooster fight? or a crap game? or a horse race? or buying a lottery ticket? Nor would you respect any preacher who is guilty. To "bet" on a golf game is no less gambling than to buck dice off a wall, high man for a dollar! Godly saints lead a better example than this!" (Nichols 28).
Quibbles or objections in favor of gambling include: "Life itself a gamble." "Gambling is not merely chance, but is betting on a chance" (Nichols 26). Chance, happenstance and gamble associated with life differ from definitions for gambling, which include creating unnecessary risk and wagering money to obtain the wealth of others without giving them something of equal value in return.
"Farming is a gamble." "Farmers do not seek something for nothing, but engage in productive labor. …When a gambler prospers, someone else necessarily loses and goes home empty-handed; but a farmer does not prosper at the expense of another" (Nichols 26). Farmers operate in accordance with God's natural laws, which aside from sometimes misfortune, the farmer can expect a harvest (Genesis 8:22).
"Buying insurance is gambling." "Neither the insuror [sic] nor the insured seeks something for nothing. Rather, the insuror [sic] sells a service (protection). Insurance does not violate the law of exchange of goods and services" (Nichols 26). Insurance is a responsible activity regarding one's material possessions and family responsibilities, whereas gambling is an irresponsible activity regarding one's material possessions and family responsibilities.
"Playing the stock market is gambling." Garland Elkins observes that investing in the stock market is comparable to proprietorship or other business activities since those investments "represent partial ownership of productive facilities such as factories, industrial plants, transportation facilities, mines, etc." ("What the Bible Teaches" 37). Investing in the stock market helps build industry and business, and naturally, the investors share in the profits associated with the growth of industry and business.
"Gambling is not stealing because the participants agree to the terms." Sins are nevertheless sins irrespective of whether people consent to participate in them (e.g., fornication, adultery). Murder charges or attempted murder charges would still be brought against persons who agreed to try and kill each other in a duel. Garland Elkins refers to gambling as "stealing by permission" ("What the Bible Teaches" 36).
Gambling funds government in lieu of higher taxes. "Let it be clearly stated that even if pari-mutuel gambling provided an abundance of national wealth, it would still be sinful! It is never right to do evil that good may abound (Romans 3:8)" (Elkins, "What the Bible Teaches" 36). The ends do not justify the means (Romans 6:1).
Gambling is just an innocent form of recreation. The evil fruits of gambling include physical harm to gamblers, their families and society--not, then, merely an innocent form of recreation. The evil fruits of gambling include spiritual harm to gamblers, their families and society--not, then, merely an innocent form of recreation.
The Bible authorizes a limited number of means for transferring wealth from one person to another. Flavil Nichols notes:
There are three legitimate means of transferring money or its equivalent: (1) The Law of Labor--physical or mental--is where time and energy are expended in the production of goods or rendering of services, whereby one actually "earns" the money he receives. (2) The Law of Exchange, in which a commodity is exchanged for its value in goods, services, or money. (3) The Law of Love, in which something is GIVEN-without any desire or expectation of receiving anything in return. Gambling comes under NONE of these laws. It is a dishonorable means of transferring money or its equivalent. (Nichols 29; see also Jackson, "Christians and the Lottery" 424)
Garland Elkins adds: "There are three right possible ways of obtaining money: (1) Money can be earned (Gen. 3:19; Matt. 20:8; II Thess. 310); (2) Money can be given to one as a gift (Prov. 17:8); (3) There are occasions when money has been found, and there was no known way to determine where it came from. These are honorable ways of obtaining money" ("What the Bible Teaches" 36). In addition, one might receive a loan, which he repays usually with interest.
Summarized, gambling is sinful! Further, gambling is gambling irrespective of how little or how much is wagered, won or lost. With Wendell Winkler we concur that "gambling [is]…a violation of Ephesians 4:28; Romans 12:17; Matthew 7:12…" (31).
The circumstantial evidence from biblical principles and inspection of the fruits of gambling convict gambling for the vice that it is, and indict anyone (including Christians) who embrace gambling in any way. The words "gamble" and "gambling" are absent from the Bible, but biblical principles condemn gambling. Hugo McCord writes, "The Bible does not [in so many words or explicitly] forbid Christians buying lottery tickets and putting money in slot machines, but since it commands them to 'maintain good works,' the necessary inference follows that Christians will abstain (Titus 3:14; Ephesians 4:28)" (44). "Though the Bible does not specifically mention the sin of gambling, this voice is nevertheless condemned by numerous scriptural principles" (Jackson, "Gambling" 35). Jerry Jones observes the value and place of New Testament principles.
If the New Testament had to have a direct specific command for every possible action or relationship in which the Christian would find himself, it would be impossible to find a pocket edition of the New Testament. Therefore, one finds in the New Testament numerous principles given by Jesus and the Biblical writers which help to establish the norm for the Christian's conduct… If the Christian seeks to find the specific passage which says "Thou shalt not gamble" he will find the New Testament lacking. Therefore, in order to make the proper decision he must decide whether or not there are principles in the New Testament which would have a bearing upon this practice. (Jones 27)
Rod Rutherford observes: "There is no single passage in the Bible which explicitly says, 'Thou shalt not gamble,' but gambling is wrong because it violates a number of moral principles of the Bible" (5). Gambling challenges a Christian's purity and ethics. Gambling must not be a part of a Christian's conduct, but rather Christians ought to resist the evil of gambling (Ephesians 5:11.
The prevalence of games of chance in our modern society is a tragedy. Through this vice homes are destroyed; finances wasted and lives marred. Yet, in spite of these ills there is an eager acceptance of any kind of gambling. But an even greater tragedy is that the Lord's people seem to be insensitive to this. Why? Could it be that ignorance has led to silent consent? (Kachelman 3)
An understatement, but note this admission:
Although the recent institutionalization of gambling appears to have benefited economically depressed communities in which it is offered, gambling has social and economic costs." …The availability of legal gambling has increased sharply in the past 20 years. More people are gambling, and they are wagering more. As a result, there is increased concern about pathological gambling. Clinical evidence suggests that pathological gamblers engage in destructive behaviors: they commit crimes, they run up large debts, they damage relationships with family and friends, and they kill themselves. ("Executive Summary" 1).
Rather than pursing the material world that promises at best a temporary reward, people need to seek heavenly treasures (Matthew 16:26; 6:19-21). The first step laying up treasure in heaven is Gospel obedience (1 Peter 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Continued obedience of the Gospel leads to salvation from past sins now and the prospect of eternal redemption (Hebrews 5:9; Revelation 2:10).
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Burleson, Ted. "Is Gambling Wrong?" Power 11.6 (2002): 4.
Cooper, Peter W. "Gambling: Wrong by Definition." Gospel Advocate 136.2 (1994):20.
Elkins, Garland. "We Saw Aliens Become Citizens." Yokefellow 29.8 (2002): 2.
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McWhorter, Jane. "Sin's Deceitful Appeal." Sin and Salvation, Vol. 1. Bobby Liddell, ed. Memphis: Memphis School of Preaching, 1206-1228.
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Nichols, Flavil H. "Gambling." Spiritual Sword 22.1 (1990): 25-29.
Rutherford, Rod. "Is Gambling Wrong?" Spirit of Truth 16.11 (1993) 5-6.
Winkler, Wendell. "In But Not Of the World." Spiritual Sword 30.1 (1998): 29-33.