What should the Christian’s attitude to gambling be, especially as the United Kingdom is facing the biggest shake-up in gambling laws it has ever seen, and the result of these changes will soon be obvious in holiday resorts, hotels and High Streets? Does the Bible have anything to say on the subject?
We gamble when we become engaged in any activity that involves risk or uncertainty. In its general sense we can gamble with anything: we ‘gamble with our lives’, for instance, when we drive recklessly, or do something foolish. Now, whilst this is always ill-advised, it is gambling with money that should present Christians with moral problems. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary includes in its definition of gambling ‘to play games of chance with money; to stake money on some chance’. Gambling, in this sense, takes place when any amount of wealth changes hands on the basis of chance. Some may argue that there is a measure of skill involved but risk, chance or luck is usually what draws people in.
In order to entice us to part with our money, in the hope that we might increase it or gain something for it, prizes are usually offered. Cash jackpots in lotteries are usually massive; prizes in raffles, prize-draws or scratch-cards are often items most people could not afford. Here is the first problem with gambling – it arouses negative, if not sinful, emotions. The most important of these emotions are greed and covetousness – we are encouraged to dream for, and even long for, what would otherwise be out of our reach. But God forbids us to covet what is not our own. ‘Thou shalt not covet’, is the tenth commandment, and covetousness is idolatry says Paul in Colossians 3. 5. To covet what people cannot afford, yet entice them with the prospect of getting it for little expense is wrong. Instead, we should be encouraged to buy what we can afford, to be content with what we have if we cannot afford it, and never to lust after, or covet what is beyond our means. ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’. A desire to win huge sums of money is at the root of all gambling, and ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’. Many who have been caught in its snare have ‘pierced themselves through with many sorrows’, 1 Tim. 6. 6-10.
As with alcohol, drugs and tobacco, gambling in casinos, betting at the races, filling in the pools, buying lottery tickets, etc., is highly addictive. For many gamblers, the rush of excitement becomes intoxicating, leading to more and more gambling. It also leads to serious problems, for when gamblers lose money, they often have to bet more in order to recover huge losses, and these invariably lead to massive and crippling debts. The word of God reminds believers that we must not be mastered by anything other than the Lord Himself, 1 Cor. 6.12b. To put ourselves into the line of addiction to thrills, risks and the hope of good luck, is irresponsible.
Gambling leads to a reckless use of resources. The principle of buying and selling, of working hard to provide a livelihood and to care for a family, is a biblical practise. ‘He that tills his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that follows vain [things] (margin) is void of understanding’, Prov. 12. 11. God,however, reminds us that we are stewards of what He gives us. We are, therefore, to use our resources wisely, not recklessly. To spend hours hoping and praying for a windfall, and to spend resources in the pursuit of such hopes, is not responsible stewardship of God’s resources.
There is no such thing as luck whether it is good luck or bad. God is sovereign in His world, and gives to all what they need. It is far more wholesome for us as God’s people to work hard, buy what we can afford, and to trust in God to provide what we need. Pagans and unbelievers think chance rules the world; Christians don’t. ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord’, Prov. 16. 33. There are many ways of gambling, and also many degrees of it. The most extreme forms of gambling take place in casinos. The trouble is, that while no Christian would want to be found in a casino, it is possible to gamble in internet casinos and on gambling websites from home. The devil wants us to do many things in private that we would never do in public. But would you bet on sports results, fill in the pools, play for money with cards or bingo? Possibly not. Would you, then, buy a lottery ticket, buy or sell raffle tickets, play in the school tombola, participate in prize draws, play the fruit machines and slot machines on the pier, or send off for the prize on a scratch-card? Aren’t these all forms of gambling as pay-outs are dependent upon luck or chance? You may say many of them are all for a good end – to raise money for the school, the hospital or charity. But can the end ever justify the means?