What the Bible Has to Say About Gambling

Introduction:

A woman was in a gambling casino for the first time. As she walks the floor, looking at all of the pretty lights, the machines and the special tables she is awestruck. The woman walks up to a roulette wheel and watches as someone plays a round. The attendant invites her to join the game and she says, “I have no idea what number to play.” Sitting at the table is a young, good-looking man who suggests she play her age. Smiling at the man, she puts her money on number 32. The dealer spins the big wheel and it flies by once, twice, three times; on the fourth time around the wheel slows and stops on the number 41. As the woman looks at the number and the young man, the smile drifted from the woman’s face and she fainted.

It is estimated that 95% of Americans have gambled at some time in their lives. About 82% have played the lottery – 75% have played slot machines – 44% have played cards – 34% have gambled via bingo – 26% have bet on sporting events and 74 % have gambled in casinos.

We are in the third wave of gambling in the United States. The first wave was in the 1900s with lotteries. The second came after the Civil War and the third wave came about 1964.

James Dobson reported more than 10 years ago that more than $600 million is wagered legally in the U.S. annually. I would guess that number has more than doubled in the past 10 years. One in every 5 homeless people admits that gambling contributed to their poverty. Would you believe that between 5 to 8 percent of American adolescents are already addicted to gambling?

Gambling is rolling in America, with every state except Utah and Hawaii having legalized some form of betting.1

The state of Mississippi, which legalized gambling in 19902, is one of the fastest growing gaming states in the U.S. Even after the destructive forces of Hurricane Katrina demolished several casinos on the Gulf Coast, they have been rebuilt and/or relocated and back in operation. Today, more money is spent on gambling in Mississippi than all retail sales combined.

In Alabama, we constantly must fight against forces that hope to expand legalized gambling in our state. In 1999 the people of Alabama said “NO” to a state operated lottery,3 but in spite of the strong vote of the people our legislators keep trying to expand gambling. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that sweepstake gambling in Alabama is illegal. That ruling closed numerous gambling establishments.4 Still, every year several bills are presented in the legislature to increase gambling.

There are many good biblical reasons why we should say “NO” to gambling:

I. There are biblical commandments against gambling

Is there a commandment against gambling?

Is there a commandment against gambling?

Yes, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Yes, Thou shalt not steal (gambling is robbery by mutual consent).

Yes, Thou shalt not covet.

No, the Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not gamble.” But are we so intellectually and morally illiterate that we must have everything spelled out on a third grade level? Don’t we know anything about spiritual principles? Gambling did not trouble Israel, so the first direct reference to gambling did not come until Isaiah 65:11 where it says, “Who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny.” Fortune and Destiny were the pagan gods of fate who symbolized good and bad luck.

One other direct reference to gambling came from John 19:23-24 where the soldiers gambled for the garments of Jesus at the crucifixion. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.”

Contrary to what many people believe, the Bible does indirectly address the issue of gambling. While it contains no “thou shalt not gamble,” it does contain many insights and principles that indicate that gambling is wrong. You might ask, “If gambling is wrong, why doesn’t the Bible plainly condemn it?” I think that is a valid question and one that deserves an answer. The main reason gambling is not openly condemned in the Bible is because it, like smoking, was not a social problem. Even though the Roman soldiers gambled over the seamless robe of Jesus, gambling was not a social problem like it is today.

II. The Bible attacks gambling as covetousness

There is no doubt that gambling is a form of covetousness. It is a desire to have something that does not belong to you. It is a desire to get things the easy way–something for nothing or almost nothing. The Bible says in Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The Bible calls the inordinate desire for money covetousness. The Greek word Paul used for covetousness is pleonexia. One Greek philosopher described pleonexia as “the greatest evil for a man himself.” The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament never used the word in reference to the honest gaining of possessions.

Why would one gamble unless he wants to obtain money without working for it?

III. The Bible assures us that gambling is caused by greed

Greed is a basic motive in gambling. The people who own casinos, dog and horse tracks and other gambling establishments are motivated by greed. If not for the huge profits there would be no gambling industry. The people who go to gambling sites are there also because of greed. They want to get rich quick, even though the odds against them are astronomical. Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.”

If you go in a casino you will notice that the owners and operators want you to stay as long as possible. They make it very comfortable for you. If you gamble regularly they will know your name and secure a slot machine for you. Notice there are no windows and no clocks in a casino. They want you to stay as long as possible and lose as much money as you have. They focus on greed – yours and theirs. Their treatment of you is false, they don’t care about you, they just want your money.

IV. The Bible attacks gambling from the law of love

Gambling stands in opposition to the biblical law of love. In Mark 12:31 Jesus told his followers, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Love imposes strong demands upon our lives. How can I love my neighbor and at the same time take his wealth, giving him nothing in return? Love refuses to engage in actions that mistreat or exploit others. My desire should be to give, not take from those I love. Gambling values taking or winning not giving.

The Good Samaritan story of Jesus reveals there are no limits on love (Luke 10:25-37), for it is the law of the King, the principle by which our lives must be regulated.

Love meets needs but gambling exploits, love entreats but gambling mistreats, love strengthens but gambling weakens, love builds up but gambling tears down, love never fails but gambling ever fails.

James Dobson says that they inner city sees gambling as a possible ticket out of poverty’ however, it simply puts most gamblers deeper into the ashes of poverty and want.

The only way to get out of poverty is work and education. The casinos and lottery people have even grabbed the idea of education to use in their game. However, in Georgia it is not the poor who get an education from the lottery, but the middle class and wealthy.

V. The Bible promotes good stewardship against gambling

Gambling undermines good stewardship. Christians are to put their trust in God for their financial resources, not in blind fate such as gambling. Ultimately, all things belong to God and we are his stewards (Psalm 24:1). We are to handle his resources wisely and gratefully. I do not think God wants his money put to the gambler’s wheel.

The New Testament teaches that we first give ourselves to God (2 Corinthians 8:3), then out of that surrender we gratefully use whatever money or property we have for God’s glory and human good (Luke 12:42-48).

Gambling is poor stewardship because gamblers are losers. The odds of winning the Florida lottery are 1 in 22,957480.5 Your chances of being struck by lightning are greater than winning the lottery even if you play and pay on a regularly basis.6

The Bible instructs us that good stewardship occurs when we use money for our basic needs, to support our family, contribute to the Lord’s work, give to the poor and to pay taxes. This precludes gambling.

Some people see the casinos as bringing jobs. That is true, but usually they are low paying jobs. We must be sympathetic with the unemployed, as Christians, we hurt with them. We must be sensitive to their needs.

The other side of the coin is that casinos take from those who play their silly games. They take money that needs to be used for food, clothing, transportation and education. They take far more than they give.

People think they can win when they gamble. In 1998 when the Powerball lottery prize reached $250 million, people all over the northeast bought tickets, even though their chance of winning was only one in 80 million. At the casino when people see someone winning they feverously put more money into the slot machine. The evidence is clear, most people gamble to win money. If we took away the promise of money, gambling would become almost non-existent. People are greedy, they want something for nothing. They do not understand stewardship. They do not want to follow God’s plan and trust him for provisions.

VI. The Bible emphasizes work over gambling

Gambling destroys a proper work ethic. Honest work and honest wages go together. Luke 10:7 tells us “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” The parable of the talents gives us the option of investing (including the stock market–which is not gambling) in order to gain wealth, but is does not allow for gambling. Each person is obligated to work. One purpose for work is to gain wealth that can be used for God’s glory. However, work in itself is good. What would life be like, if one sat in idleness. I have heard people say, “If I won the lottery, I would quit my job.” If winning at gambling allowed you to stop working, that in itself would bring a certain amount of destruction to your life.

What are you working for? The answer may be money and that is fine; however, most of us would like for our work to earn more than just money. Ministers hope to change the world for better, to influence lives, to build churches and to help save lives. Teachers hope to educate children – young people. Farmers feed the world and on we go hoping our work betters mankind.

Owning or operating a casino may make you rich, but there will be no blessing. Taking money by deception is not something of which to be proud.

VII. The Bible promotes Christian influence in opposition to gambling

Gambling destroys one’s Christian influence. If your pastor or other influential Christians gambled, would your admiration and appreciation for them decline? Most likely it would. I Thessalonians 5:22 instructs us to abstain from all appearance of evil. All our actions should glorify God. Gambling will not bring glory to God even if you give the church 10% of your winnings or even 100%. Remember God cannot be bought, he already owns the cattle on a 1000 hills.

Some would argue it is fine for me to go to a restaurant inside a casino. After all, I am not going to gamble. Most casinos make you walk through the slot machines to get to the restaurant and they hope you will play the slots on your way out with your change. I suggest that Christians ought to stay away from temptation. The Bible teaches that we ought to flee from evil. Your Christian influence does not need to be compromised.VIII. The Bible hates gambling because it corrupts government

The purpose of government is to serve and protect the citizens under its authority (Romans 13:1-7). Taxation is a legitimate method for government to raise revenue for its operating expenses (Matthew 22:31). When government legalizes gambling to supplement taxes, it transforms itself from a benevolent protector to a retailer of gambling. Through advertisement and other means it becomes a hostile predator and an exploiter of the people. When gambling (especially the lottery) becomes legal, the government promotes something that our forefathers stamped illegal and bad.

It is the responsibility of government to protect and possibly supply a safety net for the poor. When government legalizes gambling (especially lottery) it exploits the very people it is responsible to protect. Most studies show that the vast majority of lottery tickets are purchased by the poor. Money is used to buy tickets that should purchase food, clothing and lodging. Government sponsored lottery encourages the poor to be totally destitute.

VIII. The Bible Hates Gambling Because It Corrupts Government

The purpose of government is to serve and protect the citizens under its authority (Romans 13:1-7). Taxation is a legitimate method for government to raise revenue for its operating expenses (Matthew 22:31). When government legalizes gambling to supplement taxes, it transforms itself from a benevolent protector to a retailer of gambling. Through advertisement and other means it becomes a hostile predator and an exploiter of the people.

It is the responsibility of government to protect and possibly supply a safety net for the poor. When government legalizes gambling (especially lottery) it exploits the very people it is responsible to protect. Most studies show that the vast majority of lottery tickets are purchased by the poor. Money is used to buy tickets that should purchase food, clothing and lodging. Government sponsored lottery encourages the poor to be totally destitute.

The gambling interest has huge sums of money it has taken from losers. They are already using that money to lobby legislators to allow increased gambling in Alabama. There are so many pacts in Alabama that it is impossible to know which legislator takes money from the gambling interests. History has proven that the gambling interest influences politicians. They corrupt the people we select to lead our government. They bring corruption to government and they never make our state a better place in which to live.

IX. The Bible deplores gambling because it encourages crime

Studies show that when gambling comes to town, so does crime. Atlantic City passed the most restrictive gambling laws in the country at the time they opened casinos; however crime in Atlantic City exploded. Increases in the violent crimes of rape and assault were particularly noticeable.7   Prostitution also increased significantly after the casinos opened. When gambling was legalized in New Jersey, crime more than doubled from 1976 to 1989.8 In 1995 the FBI reported that organized crime families had infiltrated a Mississippi Gulf Coast casino and stolen a half million dollars.9 

There are numerous stories available about crime, prostitution and other vices that follow the gambling trade.
Alabama has only to look at its own Phenix City for an example of how gambling brings crime. In 1954 Albert Patterson, who practiced law in Phenix City, decided that the gambling crimes must stop, so he ran for the office of attorney general, the top law enforcement office in Alabama. (He won the democratic primary, which in essence meant he was going to be the state’s attorney general, because there was not a strong republican party in Alabama at the time.) The gambling criminals assassinated him thinking they were powerful enough to eliminate anyone they desired. The National Guard was called in and gambling was run out of Phenix City. Some are asking if gambling and its lawlessness is reaching that same power in Alabama today.
            It is well known that the gambling moguls in Alabama control many in the legislature. If the politicians do not take personal money from the industry, many take campaign money. Those who refuse campaign money are often replaced with gambling proponents who are supported with big gambling money.

Conclusion:

Gambling contributes nothing to the common good. It undermines values, mocks work, finances crime, robs children, enslaves its addicts, subverts governments, and poisons whatever it touches.

Biblical insights lead us to reject its false promises and say “NO” to gambling.


NOTES:
1. Pamela M. Prah, “States Turn to Gambling to Fix Budget Woes,” [online], 18 May 2004 [cited 31 March 2007]. Available from the Internet:
 www.gambling-law-us.com/Articles-Notes/2004- Legislation.htm
2. “A Review of the Adequacy of the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s Regulation of Legalized Gambling in Mississippi” [online], 11 September 1996 [cited 31 March 2007].
Available from Internet: www.peer.state.ms.us/344.html
3. Jeffrey Selingo, “Alabama Voters Reject Proposed Lottery to Pay for Scholarships,” The Chronicle of Higher Education [online], 8 October 1999 [cited 31 March 2007].
Available from Internet: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v46/i09/09a04601.htm
4. Cliften Lind, “Multimedia Games Inc.,” [online], 4 December 2006 [cited 31 March 2007]. Available from the Internet:http://www.shareholder.comlCommoniEdgar/896400/1193125-06-245775/06-00.pdf
5. http://www.flalottery.com/inet/lottoMain.do
6. According to the National Weather Service, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1:400,000. Dr. Mary Ann Cooper, “Lightning Safety,” [online] 2007 [cited 31 March 2007]. Available from Internet: http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/medical.htm
7. FBI Uniform Crimes Indices, years 1972-1982
8. Chicago Crime Commission, Ibid
9. Gina Holland, Associated Press, “FBI Says Organized Crime Tied To Casino,” Montgomery Advertiser, June 4, 1995

Joe Bob Mizzell

Joe Bob Mizzell retired from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions in 2012. He was most recently the director of the Office of Christian Ethics & Chaplaincy Ministries. Previously, Joe served as pastor of Alberta Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa.
Joe Bob Mizzell

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