Gambling is big business and seems to be gaining the widespread acceptance of the public. Those who advocate the practice of gambling will often be heard saying:
"It is for a good cause" especially when raffles and lotteries are the means for raising money.
"Gambling is only a game where no one gets hurt."
"I only bet small amounts, so gambling is OK."
"Some Christians participate in raffles or bingo and some even play the lottery, so it must be alright."
Recently the Government has declared that" .... gambling should be seen as part of the leisure industry, offering fun and attractive products in a regulated environment" (House of Commons, Hansard, 11 June 1968, cols 49, 67 and 70; Gambling Review Report, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, July 2001, page 12, para. 4.3). Is gambling a "leisure activity" and just "harmless fun"? While gambling is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, if we examine God's Word we can find principles that will shape our attitude towards it. So what should our attitude be with regard to gambling in its various forms?
What is gambling?
Gambling includes a range of activities, for example playing slot machines, some card games such as poker, bingo, lotteries and raffles. All these activities share certain characteristics. They all involve the exchange of wealth based primarily on chance and entail the gambler taking an unbalanced risk of loss. The gambler also hopes to gain at someone else's disadvantage without giving anything of value in terms of goods in return. Gambling is therefore much more than a game or another form of recreation. If we are to live lives pleasing to God, then our attitude to gambling should be shaped by our view of God, of other people and of the possessions he has given us.
Our view of God
Our beliefs about the essential nature of God and the type of relationship we have with him through Christ will shape our attitudes about gambling and a whole range of other issues. These factors will also have a huge influence upon our daily conduct.
1. God's nature
When we looked at gambling's common characteristics we saw that it involved acquiring a prize primarily by chance. However, the Bible does not tell us that our lives are ruled by luck, chance or fate, but rather we read that God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1: 11) and that he is sovereign over everything to do with his creation (Daniel 4:25 & 35). If a Christian were to gamble, he would be demonstrating by his actions that he glorifies chance rather than God and rejects what God reveals about himself in Scripture. He would also be suggesting that he does not believe God is in control. We as children of God are not to trust in chance or luck. Rather, we are to rely fully on God who directs all things by his power.
What about "casting lots" as used in the Bible - for example in choosing the goats for sacrifice (Leviticus 16: 8-10) and in choosing the apostle Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1: 26)? Lots are mentioned on these occasions as a means of ascertaining God's will. Indeed, in the case of the goats Moses is instructed by God that the choice be made by casting lots. Therefore, we can say that the men mentioned in either the Old Testament or New Testament churches never believed that the outcomes would be decided by chance. They firmly expected that God would reveal his choice to them with regard to these important decisions as they cast the lot. This was no gamble but rather God revealing his will as he controlled the way the lot fell.
2. Our relationship with God
God's Word tells us that Christians are those who "know" God (John 17:3) and that they are those who belong to God (Romans 1:6). It is knowing God and belonging to him that shape a Christian and make him the person he is, a person in the image of Christ. Therefore, a Christian should live in such a manner that everything is done to the glory of God (Philippians 4:7, 8; James 3:1-12; Romans 13:12-14). These verses also tell us that everything includes our thoughts, words and actions. If we are really concerned to glorify God then this will influence the use to which we put our money, the way we deal with people and how we view gambling.
Our view of possessions
The Bible teaches us some fundamental truths or principles about money and possessions. Firstly, God is the ultimate owner of everything (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8). Secondly, it is he who gives wealth and possessions (Genesis 26:12,13; Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Corinthians 4:7). It is clear from these verses that what we possess is not our own. It belongs to God who gives according to his good pleasure.
We are permitted to acquire money and possessions through legitimate means such as work, by inheritance and by responsible investment (Genesis 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Numbers 27:11; Ezekiel 46:16; Luke 19: 23). Our responsibility is then to be good caretakers and stewards of all that we have been given. When we consider the facts about gambling and compare these with the principles we have in God's Word, we can see that a person who uses money or possessions to gamble needlessly risks what belongs to God. Gambling, despite what its defenders claim, runs counter to the biblical principle of stewardship. In due time, God will ask us to give account of our stewardship.
Gambling also encourages the sins of greed or covetousness (Luke 12:15; Exodus 20:17;) and theft (Deuteronomy 5:19). Greed or covetousness is about the love of money and about never being content with what we have (l Timothy 6: 9,10). Paul calls greed or a love for money and possessions that replaces the love we should have for God idolatry. Gambling therefore breaches the first and second Commandments. Christ also warns that "you cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24). In contrast, we read that, "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6). In other words, when we trust God we will never be disappointed or be losers. God is able to "meet all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 19).
We have already seen that gambling is an attempt to gain something at another's expense and is contrary to the principles regarding work. Any pleasure gained by the winner is at the cost of pain and misery to the loser. Also, God intended that honest wages should be gained through honest work, not through games of chance. Therefore gambling may be considered a form of theft and so breaks the eighth commandment (Exodus 20: 15).
Our view of other people
Gambling can be a particularly severe problem for those who are already poor and those who develop an addiction to the activity. It fosters a selfish view of self-interest to such an extent that the gambler is able to ignore the pain and misery of the loser. Our view of others and ourselves should be opposite to this. We should consider those around us as our neighbours and have a Christ-like love that is self-giving and seeks what is best for them (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:30-37; Philippians 2:3-5). Gambling promotes a spirit of self-interest that runs contrary to our calling, which is to deny ourselves and to love our neighbour.
All forms of gambling stand against certain fundamental biblical principles. We must be guided by these principles and keep them in a spirit of love and humble dependence on God. Adhering to them may cause us to stand out from friends and colleagues but we must bear in mind that we are to be salt and light in this world, witnesses to the holiness and spotless perfection of the God whom we serve. It is he alone who is worthy of our entire devotion. Ultimately our joy is to be found in him alone, now and for eternity. It far surpasses any temporary thrill that a gamble may give.