Is Gambling a Sin?

After moving to Las Vegas, I had to decide how I would handle the gambling issue. Should I preach against gambling?  Several members of the church where I preach work in some capacity for the gaming industry, so should I also preach against working at casinos?  Most of the Christians I work with never gamble, but occasionally, I will hear about some church members who enjoy playing the slot machines, and I am aware of a few who enjoy playing blackjack and poker. So, is gambling a sin like adultery or drunkenness?

Gambling is a behavior, and before a behavior can be labeled as a sin, it is important to define the behavior one has in mind.  For a definition of gambling, I will follow the one given by Ladouceur and Doucet (1998), which is similar to most of the other definitions by people who study this behavior.  Gambling consists of three criteria: 1) players gamble money or an object of value; 2) the bet is irreversible once it is placed; and 3) the outcome of the wager relies on chance (5). Some games, like poker and blackjack, require skill in addition to chance.  Some slot machine games, like video poker, give the illusion of a required skill by giving the player a chance to provide input.

Since I profess to be a Bible preacher, I strongly believe it is important to give a Bible answer to every issue, just as the Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). The subject of gambling, however, is not addressed in the Bible and games that involve the above three criteria are nowhere labeled as sin.  So, I will be happy to preach against gambling when I find it condemned in Scripture.

Realizing that many preachers like to preach against this behavior, I decided to do an internet search of some popular sermon websites to see if perhaps I have missed something in my search of the Scriptures.  What I found was that many preachers would begin their sermon by admitting that the Bible says nothing about this subject and then proceed to present an entire lesson based on opinion rather than biblical teaching. 

One preacher suggested that although the Bible does not address this subject, we are supposed to discern the teaching by looking at passages that have nothing to do with the behavior, which seems to me to be a dangerous way to apply Scripture.  However, out of deference to these preachers, and out of concern for those who listen to them, I will discuss some of the arguments made by those who preach against gambling.

1. Gambling is stealing by consent

I am not really sure about the point being made here since, by definition, stealing is without consent. Taking something of value from someone with their consent is receiving a gift.  Winning a prize is where people engage in a behavior with mutual consent where the outcome is based on chance.  The stealing argument seems to refer to the supposed wrongness of someone willingly placing a wager.  Preachers who make this point usually give an analogy to other sins that we willfully do, such as adultery, but adultery is clearly prohibited in Scripture while gambling is not.  The analogy, therefore, is comparing apples to oranges.  Yes, adultery is by consent, and if it were not, the behavior could not be defined as adultery.

2. Gambling is contrary to good stewardship. 

It is true that we are to be good stewards of material things (Luke 16:11), but this applies to how we use our financial resources in general and not to any specific behavior.  I could argue that buying a diamond ring is a waste of financial resources, but most people believe they have the right to set aside money for such a purpose, especially if they want to get married, or to please a spouse on an anniversary occasion.  I also believe that buying a bass boat is a poor use of financial resources, but there are many Christians in Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and elsewhere who believe they have the right to take a portion of their income and waste it on such a thing.  I would never make a purchase like this because I do not enjoy the hobby, but it is going too far for me to label this behavior as sin just because I do not enjoy it. 

I do not enjoy playing slot machines or poker, but some people do, and they set aside a certain amount to spend on this hobby every year.  It is a matter of judgment as to how much money spent on such a hobby becomes a poor use of one’s financial resources.  It is likely that a vacation trip to Hawaii costs more than a gambling trip to Las Vegas, but it is binding where God has not bound to say that one is a sin and the other is not.

3. Gambling contradicts the work ethic

Work is honorable and good for all Christians (Ephesians 4:28).  Work is not a curse because of sin but a blessing from God.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were told to work in the garden (Genesis 2:15).  Not working is contrary to God’s plan, and Paul gave this rule to the church: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). 

It is the opinion of some preachers, however, that gamblers are lazy and do not want to work for a living, but this is assigning a motive to those who gamble that most do not have.  Perhaps the preacher knows more gamblers than I do, but the people I know who enjoy gambling are not lazy.  The people I know who gamble do so because they enjoy playing games of chance and they do not mind wagering money on those games.

4. Gamblers are greedy

This may be true with some gamblers, but it is also true with people who never gamble.  Some people work two jobs because they are greedy, but work is honorable.  Some people save their money and invest because they are greedy, but saving and investing are not sins.  The Bible says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and some who gamble do commit evil because of their love for money, but it is wrong to assign evil motives to everyone because of what some do.

5. Gambling violates the Golden Rule

Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).  The idea of doing unto others what you would have them do to you is called the Golden Rule.  Since gamblers seek to win money from the casinos, they are supposedly violating this rule. 

I am sure that casino executives here in Las Vegas are delighted to know that some preachers are taking an interest in their welfare, but in reply, they would say not to worry because they are doing just fine.  Some of the most beautiful buildings in the world are owned by casinos in Las Vegas, and some of the casino buildings cost over a billion dollars!  They did not build these palaces because you win but because you lose.  The odds are always in favor of the casinos.

6. Gambling demonstrates a lack of self-control.

Paul said, “I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  Certainly, this can include gambling behavior, but it can also include other behaviors, like eating, shopping, working, playing, sleeping, and so forth.  People who are addicted to gambling are out of control, but people who are addicted to eating and shopping are also out of control.  Gambling and casinos do not cause addiction—people cause addiction.  Losing control is a choice one can make, but it does not necessarily mean that the behavior itself is wrong.

J B Myers

Books:

Faith and Addiction

Elders and Deacons

Life Choices

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