Gambling has progressed from a pastime to a plague! Why? What is the biblical perspective on this activity?
Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
In Part One of this series, we looked at the exploding popularity of all forms of gambling and some of the factors contributing to this growth. In Part Two, we will examine the corresponding increase in problem and compulsive gambling, and study the biblical principles that apply to gambling as a whole.
A segment of those who gamble fall into two related categories: Problem gamblers, and compulsive (also known as “pathological”) gamblers. According to WebMD, more than eight percent of new gamblers end up with some type of gambling addiction.
Problem gambling has been described as “an involvement in risky gambling behaviors that adversely affects the individual’s well-being: this may include issues: of relationships, family; financial matters, social standing and vocational pursuits” (Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling – AZCCG).
Compulsive gambling is more severe, defined as “…a progressive disorder characterized by a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling; a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money with which to gamble; irrational thinking; and a continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences” (Psychiatric Annals, Dr. Richard Rosenthal,).
Risk factors associated with problem or compulsive gambling include: parents who gamble; availability of gambling (especially during the formative years of life); inadequate psychological coping strategies; and simply being male.
Research is underway to compare compulsive gambling to other addictions such as alcohol, and to examine brain chemistry among pathological gamblers. Similarities between the brains of compulsive gamblers and drug addicts have been documented, such as relative unreactivity to dopamine (a chemical neurotransmitter associated with feelings of reward or satisfaction) within both groups. However, researchers admit that these chemical irregularities may be a result of pathological gambling, rather than the cause (“Gambling Fever Starts in Brain,” The Washington Post).
Authorities on compulsive gambling have documented four phases through which a pathological gambler typically progresses. Phase one is called the “winning phase” or the “introductory phase.” This is a period, or sometimes just a single occurrence, of monetary gain from gambling. Second is the “losing phase,” in which losses begin to accumulate, and the gambler often pursues larger bets or greater odds, rationalizing that it is just a streak of bad luck. Third is the “desperation phase.” This is a phase during which gambling consumes most of an individual’s time and energy, sometimes to the point of neglecting physical health, habitual lying, and the loss of possessions and family. Finally, the fourth phase is called the “hopeless phase”—characterized by clinical depression, bankruptcy, nervous breakdown, prison time and sometimes suicide attempts (AZCCG).
Compulsive gamblers are divided into two categories: “action gamblers” and “escape gamblers.” The personality of the gambler, and thus the motivation to gamble, determine one’s type.
The typical action gambler is described as a domineering, manipulative male, who is confident, energetic, and has an IQ over 120. This is the most pervasive type of compulsive gambler in both legal and illegal gambling. The action gambler’s motivation is tied to the goal of beating other individuals at his chosen game and “beating the house.” He seeks to gain wealth and status at the expense of other players and the betting establishment (for example, a casino). These individuals often believe that they can devise a personal “system” to achieve these victories.
Conversely, escape gamblers are typically female (according to some estimates, over 90 percent of female pathological gamblers fall in this category). Most are considered to be caring, nurturing, and introverted, with no apparent tendencies toward egotism or narcissism. Their profile is essentially opposite that of the action gambler. Here, the motivation is relief—escape—from emotional pain, which is a result of present or past trauma.
Organizations that provide help for compulsive gamblers have noted that the problem is growing fastest among two demographic segments: seniors and teenagers. The common denominators between these two groups are that each has relatively large amounts of free time and disposable income. However, the motivation to gamble among each of these groups is age-specific.
Seniors are usually described as “escape gamblers.” They typically gamble in order to escape pain or discomfort in their lives—for example, the loss of a spouse or feeling obsolete after retirement. According to the AZCCG, the casino machines in particular create an anesthetizing quality that temporarily releases them from emotional and even physical pain.
Teenagers most often fall into the category of “action gambler.” They generally gamble for excitement, that is, as an antidote to boredom. As games of chance increase in popularity among youth, peer pressure to follow the crowd is mounting—gambling is now seen as fashionable and trendy. An additional appeal to certain teenagers can be summarized as a “reversal of the pecking order”: The best poker players are often studious introverts, the opposite of the “popular athlete” high school stereotype (“Poker for teens: How far is too far?”, MSNBC).
The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviours, based in Montreal, Canada, found that gambling is more popular among teens than other high-risk pursuits such as alcohol abuse, illegal drug use and cigarette smoking (Fox News).
A third group that has also experienced a dramatic increase in problem/pathological gambling consists of approximately one-half of the general population—women. Prior to the early 1980s, gambling among women was widely considered socially unacceptable, with the exception of local bingo games. Gambling was to a great degree a “men’s club.” Before this time, virtually all Gamblers Anonymous attendees were male. Currently, however, an estimated one-third of compulsive gamblers are women. The large majority of these female gamblers are, like seniors, classified as “escape gamblers” (AZCCG).
Is all gambling wrong—or just certain types? Should Christians participate? What does the Bible teach?
First, recognize that God’s Word does not contain the specific command, “Thou shalt not gamble.” On the other hand, neither does it command, “Thou shalt not smoke cigarettes”—yet, it can be proven through the spiritual application of His Word that God forbids smoking. (To learn more, read our article “The Truth About SMOKING.”) In the same way, we can know God’s will regarding Christians and gambling. We simply need to study the laws, examples and spiritual principles found throughout the Bible.
As stated in Part One, gambling involves (1) relying on chance, while (2) risking the loss of something of value in order to (3) gain an advantage—and achieve instant gratification. The higher the stakes, the more reckless the risk involved.
Let’s examine a biblical account of gambling: As a faithful servant of God, the mighty Samson was brave and had a gift of supernatural strength—yet he also had a weakness for foreign women of poor character. With his father’s reluctant permission, Samson married a Philistine woman, one who had a tarnished reputation (Jdg. 14:1-3).
A grand seven-day wedding feast was held in honor of the bride and groom. Among the guests were 30 male “companions” provided for the bridegroom by the Philistines (vs. 10-11). According to the custom of the time, these Philistine “friends” were there to protect the wedding party from invading marauders.
Another popular custom of the day was to tell riddles at feasts and special occasions. Samson posed such a riddle to his 30 wedding companions: “I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if you can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. But if you cannot declare it me, then shall you give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments” (vs. 12-13). The Philistine companions accepted Samson’s wager.
Notice: Samson (1) played a game of chance—believing that the odds of the Philistines not solving the riddle were in his favor—and (2) risked the loss of something of value—“thirty sheets and thirty change of garments”—in order to (3) gain an advantage. In other words, Samson gambled big. And he lost big.
The Philistine companions cheated, coercing Samson’s new bride into betraying her husband. In doing so, the wife revealed her true character: Given enough pressure, she would betray her husband “in a heartbeat”—even deceiving him and wearing him down with her tears. Samson learned this the hard way. He honored his bet and paid off the cheaters—but he did it through slaughtering thirty other Philistines, taking their fine clothing and giving them to the thirty wedding companions (vs. 15-19).
These were the deadly and disastrous results of Samson’s flirtation with gambling.
It has been said that there are only two ways of life: The way of give—helping, assisting, serving, showing outgoing concern for others—summed up by the word love. And the way of get—taking, competing, loving oneself ahead of others.
Which way of life does gambling represent?
Las Vegas is often called “sin city.” A close examination of its history reveals the fingerprints of organized crime, murder, gambling, theft, prostitution, adultery, fornication, drunkenness and illegal drug use. Empowering these are the attitudes of deceit, greed, lust for “instant wealth” and making the “big score,” competition, selfishness, laziness—the way of get, as influenced by the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).
Simply stated, gamblers seek to “get rich quick.” But the apostle Paul warned, “they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is [a] root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim. 6:9-10).
When playing the lottery, people buy tickets in certain combinations of numbers, hoping to win the multiple millions of dollars that await the next winner. The odds against winning are astronomical, but such logic never stands in the way of determined ticket buyers. Their eyes are on the “big prize.”
Believe it or not, this modern carnal use of lotteries is a perversion of the biblical practice of “casting lots.”
Leviticus 16 records how ancient Israel, “the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38), was to observe the Day of Atonement. During this annual Sabbath, two identical goats were to be brought before the door of God’s holy tabernacle (vs. 7). Then lots were cast: “…one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the [e]scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering” (vs. 8-9). This goat represented Jesus Christ, and was put to death (vs. 15).
“But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the [e]scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a [e]scapegoat into the wilderness” (vs. 10). This goat represented Satan and pictures a time when he will be cast away from civilization. One day soon, the devil will no longer be able to infect an unsuspecting humanity with his carnal attitudes.
There is a reason why God used lots to make His choice clear: Just as these two goats were identical in the eyes of the Israelites, men throughout history have confused Satan with Christ. As a result, people have also confused the ministers of this world with God’s true servants. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (II Cor. 11:14-15).
When it comes to spiritual matters, people cannot rely on what they think or feel. They need God to reveal the difference between Christ and Satan—between the way that leads to eternal life in God’s kingdom and the way that leads to sorrow, misery and eternal death.
The original apostles (who had the authority to do this) cast lots to seek God’s will in filling the office left vacant by Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:22-26).
Unfortunately, lots have also been cast for devious and selfish purposes. As Christ bled to death on the cross, Roman soldiers cast lots for His clothing (John 19:23-24). And at the end of the age, the enemies of the U.S., Britain and the other modern-day nations of Israel will cast lots to commit evil. But God will not be in their decisions, which is why He will later punish these nations (Joel 3:1-3; Obad. 8-11; Nahum 3:7-10).
As you can see, the modern lottery craze is a satanic perversion of a tool once used to seek God’s will.
Today, we can know the will of God through daily Bible study (accompanied by fervent prayer, and fasting regularly), reading the literature of His Work, seeking a multitude of wise counsel (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and by listening to and applying the sermons God feeds us every Sabbath and Holy Day.
As described by Gamblers Anonymous, “A desire to have all the good things in life without any great effort on their part seems to be the common character pattern of problem gamblers…time is spent creating images of the great and wonderful things they are going to do as soon as they make the big win…servants, penthouses, nice clothes, charming friends, yachts, and world tours are a few of the wonderful things that are just around the corner…”
Investing one’s heart, being and purpose in the single-minded pursuit of money will “drown” one’s spiritual life. And it will truly lead to “many sorrows”—including death!
This is why, in I Timothy 6:11, Paul warns the reader to “flee these things; and follow after righteousness”—to keep God’s commandments (Psa. 119:10, 110, 172; 111:10). This fulfills His Law, through love (Rom. 13:8-10), first toward God, then toward neighbor.
Proverbs 6 admonishes, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her own meat in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest” (vs. 6-8). The ant works and saves. She is productive. She does not waste effort, time or resources on “get-rich-quick” schemes.
The book of Proverbs has much to say about earning a living through hard, honest work:
• “He becomes poor that deals with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (10:4).
• “The slothful man roasts not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious” (12:27).
• “He that tills his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that follows after vain persons [emptiness, idleness, worthlessness] shall have poverty enough” (28:19).
• “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent [unpunished]” (vs. 20).
• “He that hastens to be rich has an evil eye, and considers not that poverty shall come upon him” (vs. 22).
Laziness and taking the “quick and easy” path to material wealth was a problem in the first-century Church. Circumstances among the brethren caused Paul to command that “if any would not work, neither should he eat…Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (II Thes. 3:10, 12).
Hard work and productivity yield patience, longsuffering, endurance and many other godly traits.
Nowhere does God’s inspired Word endorse gambling—foolishly risking something of worth to time and chance in order to get instant wealth! Nowhere do the Holy Scriptures support squandering money away in the pursuit of satisfying the appetites of the flesh!
The reason is simple: Gambling is foolishness. And the Bible teaches that even “the thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24:9).
Just a superficial investigation shows that the odds are definitely stacked against the gambler. For example, the odds of winning the Grand Prize in the largest multi-state lottery are listed as 1 in 120,526,770—astronomical! Also, gambling establishments such as casinos are assured to be “in the black” due to what is called the “house edge.” This is defined as the ratio of the gambler’s average loss to his or her initial bet. This percentage of loss on games such as blackjack and poker can vary from 0.02% to almost 19%. Slot machines are programmed to make a profit of up to 15 cents per dollar inserted, and the house edge for Keno ranges from 25 to 29%! Whether “the house” is taking the gambler’s money in most cases is not a question—it is a mathematical certainty! It is foolish to ignore this reality in pursuit of a selfish fantasy.
Yet, human reasoning will ask, “What about low-risk gambling, like bingo, raffles and office pools? Surely, there’s nothing wrong with a ‘friendly’ wager now and then—right?”
ALL gambling is wasteful, unproductive and foolish—and contrary to what the Bible teaches. Even low-risk gambling is sin; it breaks God’s Law. Notice that God’s Word states that even “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6).
Those who are led by God’s Spirit will seek to obey the spirit of the Law, not merely the letter. They will diligently follow God’s will and reject all human reasoning, for they know—and believe—that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), and “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (10:23), and “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
Ultimately, the basic motivation of the gambler is covetousness—a desire for that which belongs to others. Speaking of the modern nations of the West, God states, “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, every one is given to covetousness” (Jer. 6:13). The possessions and status that the gambler longs for become his “god”! Anything that one gives deference to above his Creator becomes his god (Ex. 20:3).
Some have wondered if purchasing stocks is wrong. Generally, no. When done in moderation, with conservative companies that have reliable financial track records, this can be a method of wise investment. But the motivation must not be to “get rich quick.”
Today, many employers provide the option of buying company stocks, sometimes at a discount. If you have the opportunity to take part in this, you would be investing in your employer’s future—as well as your own. Therefore, this would not be considered gambling. But, of course, you should be prudent and conservative.
Here is another example: In the world of newspaper and magazine publishing, most designers and artists use one particular brand of computer and its related software. Despite the fact that there are far more Windows-based computers and applications available, and usually at a cheaper price, there is among these creative professionals a firm, diehard loyalty to this line. Therefore, it is no surprise that many designers, graphic artists and illustrators invest in the parent company that designs and manufactures this particular computer system. These publishing professionals have a vested interest in that company’s success. They want to ensure that this line will continue to “push the envelope” in producing better, faster, easier-to-use, cutting edge computers.
Investing in a company whose products you regularly use and trust is not gambling, but it must always be done in moderation.
Consider Christ’s example. In Matthew 25 and Luke 19, He expected His faithful servants to increase the talents that were given to them. In the parable, Christ saw nothing wrong with going to money exchangers—banks that handled money for profit—to get a higher return.
With these examples in mind, we must also understand this: While not gambling, buying stocks can, after a certain point, become just another “get rich quick” scheme. It must always be done with wisdom and restraint.
Any type of trading based on fast-paced rumor and innuendo, relying solely on time and chance (like day trading and commodity markets), is directly akin to gambling. These involve foolishly—and recklessly—risking money to accumulate quick wealth.
It is human nature to go to extremes. But Christians must be balanced in all things. Recognize that bingo, rolling dice, card playing, etc., are wrong only if they involve wastefully and foolishly risking something of value or worth (no matter how small) in order to make a quick profit.
For example, in most cases, bingo matches (especially those sponsored by the churches of this world) require players to pay a nominal fee in order to play. This is gambling, regardless of the size of the fee. However, playing bingo is not gambling IF one is allowed to play for free, where nothing of worth or value is at risk.
Taking part in a raffle may appear harmless, but it can generate the desire to gain for yourself what others have contributed. Therefore, like all other types of gambling, this is self-centeredness and “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
On the other hand, a draw that comes as a bonus of purchasing tickets for a dance, for example, is not gambling, as long as it does not involve winning at someone else’s expense. The same applies to a promotional draw, in which the winner is picked and purchasing a ticket is not required. Remember, gambling is the way of getting, competing, taking and focusing on self at the expense of others.
It is not practical to list every possible scenario involving games of chance. However, if one is required to “pay to play” (such as in lotteries) or risk losing something of value, then this is gambling.
Gambling is not of God—and is clearly unchristian in purpose. It reflects the way of get—the way of competition, strife, lust, greed, instant gratification, selfishness and laziness—the mindset of carnal human nature. All betting, from penny ante wagers to high stakes risk-taking, is reckless and foolish, and therefore, sin.
The principles found in Scripture make plain that God created man to be productive, to work, earn, save and build, and give to others—never to squander our resources or covet those of our neighbor.
In summary, Christianity and gambling are utterly incompatible. By God’s standards, all gambling is pathological!