“I know it’s a sin to gamble,” she said. I told her, “I’ll bet you $100 you can’t find a Bible verse to back that up!” So…Is it a sin, or not?
Gambling in the Ancient World
There are exactly zero verses in the Bible that have to do with gambling for money. This isn’t because gambling didn’t exist in ancient times. In fact, gambling dates to the dawn of time. Click here to read, “The First Forms of Gambling in Ancient Civilizations.” Click here to read, “The History and Distribution of ṭāb: A Survey of Petra’s Gaming Boards.” So, since gambling existed and flourished during biblical times, it’s curious that the Bible gives no prohibition against the practice. Without clear Bible teaching to help us determine whether it’s a sin, here are some things to consider:
The House Always Wins
You’ve heard it said that “the house always wins.” While this isn’t completely true (if it were, nobody would gamble), it is true that the house usually wins. If that weren’t the case, there would be no casinos, lottery companies, or bingo halls. Yet, millions of people flock to casinos each year only to lose their shirts amid the flashing lights, glittery decorations, and loud music. The casinos know that if they can overstimulate you, they can keep you attentive. Casinos even pipe in oxygen to keep you awake long into the night. That’s because they know the longer you stay, the more you will lose.
Gambling isn’t a winning proposition for most people. Casinos create their games with just enough statistical probability that you will win often enough to convince you that anything is possible. But rarely will a gambler break even by the end of her career. Sure, she may win for a night, but she will lose for a lifetime. We all know people for whom fortune has proven favorable. They bought a one-dollar lottery ticket and now they’re set for life. But they are the exception, not the rule. In gambling, most people lose.
If You’re Meant to Win…
“You can’t win if you never play,” they say. I’m not suggesting you should never drop some spare change on the lotto. But, if you’re meant to win, all it takes is one ticket. No, I don’t really think that God is up there in heaven, manipulating who wins the jackpot. But if I were to use the logic of many gamblers and appeal to their religious nature, I’d still like to make this point. While God isn’t in the gambling business, If God were in the gambling business, all it would take would be one dollar for a ticket. You wouldn’t need to go and spend all your hard-earned money on gambling. That one ticket would be a winner. Or, for that matter, you could find a winning ticket in the street. I mean, if God wanted you to win, that’s all it would take.
Gambling as Entertainment
Many people who do not suffer from gambling addiction approach it as entertainment, like other forms of entertainment. Gamers might spend fifty dollars in a video arcade, with nothing to show for it but a good time. Others might spend the same amount on movie tickets and popcorn. If your entertainment falls within your budget, there’s no problem. With gambling, the issue isn’t entertainment-level spending. The difficulty comes when the gambler goes beyond their budget, thinking they can win back everything they lost. When you spend more than you have budgeted for entertainment, or if you find yourself unable to stop, you’ve gone too far.
Is Gambling a Sin?
The real question isn’t whether gambling is a sin. If we define sin as a violation of biblical prohibition, then it isn’t sin. Gambling is never mentioned in the Bible. The better question is whether it is wise, helpful, and loving. If we forget about labeling sin at all, we find ourselves asking much better questions. This is true with whatever people inquire about when they try to seek God’s will. Sometimes, we do ourselves an injustice by asking “is it sin?” It turns out there are much better questions to ask.
Asking Better Questions
Rather than asking if something is sinful, it’s better to ask if it can become obsessive for me. Does it make me a worse person for family and friends to be around? Am I able to be fully myself while engaging in these activities? Do these things cause harm to others? Do my activities show unconditional love and regard for other people? Do they prevent me from engaging in regular aspects of everyday life? Do they help or hurt my spirituality? Do my activities harm nature itself? If my activities are unloving, unkind, unhelpful, or unwise, then I should stop doing them.
The Problem with the Line
Too often, Christians perseverate on asking whether this thing or that thing is a sin. That’s because we like to step right up to the line without crossing it. When I was a youth pastor, my church kids would ask me whether this thing or that could be defined as sin. They wanted to know where the line was so they could walk right up to it and do everything short of it. If they crossed the line, at least there had been a clear delineation, so they knew they were violating something. The problem with the line is that it’s constantly moving. The problem with the line is it depends on who you ask. It depends on societal context, situational context, and so many other factors. So, I’m not going to draw a line and tell you whether gambling is a sin or not.
Is Gambling a Sin?
Instead of saying whether gambling is a sin, I’ll simply answer a question with more questions: Is it loving? Is it helpful? Is it wise? Or maybe I’ll give you a couple of other scriptures that you can use to find your own answers. 1 Corinthians 13 is often called the Love Chapter. In these thirteen verses, we get a portrait of what love looks like. If your gambling measures up to this view of love, then you’re fine. However, if you find that your gambling isn’t consistent with the qualities you find here, you might have a problem. Galatians 5:22-23 show us the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If your gambling measures up to the qualities listed in this scripture, you’re probably okay. But, if you read these verses and say to yourself, “Hmm…my gambling level goes against what I’m reading here,” then you might have a problem.
If You Think You Need Help
If you’ve determined that you can gamble as casual entertainment without blowing your budget or doing harm to yourself, others, and the world around you, then maybe you’re okay. But if, after examining your habits with these two scriptures, you’ve realized that gambling is a problem, I hope you’ll get some help. (Click here for gambling addiction statistics worldwide in 2022.) Search up the local gambling addiction resources in your area and reach out for the support you need.