What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
Lesson: Gambling—Why It's Wrong and How to Stop
This lesson addresses two issues—gambling and addiction to gambling. It also relates those issues to your relationships with God and the people you love.
A Christian in Arizona tells about her husband's experience:
"My husband worked with a man in Oregon who spent each evening after work playing slot machines in a bar. He not only was obsessed with the hope of winning, he became so mesmerized while he was playing that he could shut out all thoughts of family responsibility. After that, his shame would trigger the next episode as he hoped to win back his heavy losses.
"My husband tried to pull this man from the bar several times, as he knew that on pay day the man would often spend his entire paycheck. Then he would go home and face his family in fear and anguish. This never stopped him though; he continued and borrowed money from my husband and many others until he was so in debt he didn't know where to turn.
"In the end the debt consumed him and devastated his family and friends. At that point, the man could take no more and shot himself in the head to end it all. It was terribly sad. After his death my husband felt much guilt too. He wondered if he could have done more to help his friend. This is an example of typical collateral damage. Addictions and suicides lay a guilt trip and many other psychological burdens on the loved ones."
What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
In this lesson we will address the gambling-related problems that are obvious, like spending the grocery money and becoming addicted to gambling. But first, what is wrong in principle with gambling?
The fundamental issue is this: When one person wins money, it's because other people lost money. Hoping to win means you are hoping that others will lose. Not just lose a contest or a prize—lose their money so you can win their money! In a casino, you may think in terms of the casino losing the money. But where does the casino get its money? From all the many disappointed people who lost their money—many of whom are poor and gamble in desperation, clinging to the fantasy of "rags to riches." Gambling is never win-win. It is win-lose-lose-lose-lose.
This is contrary to God's great commandment to love your neighbor. After all, "Love does no harm to a neighbor" (Romans 13:10). We're also instructed, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). God wants us to have true empathy for others! In gambling, you feel like rejoicing only when others feel like weeping, and vice versa. We're told, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4). You'll be helping other people and helping society when you don't support the gambling industry.
Is the prevalence of gambling exploding?
2 Timothy 3:1-2, 4
In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
The mushrooming mania for gambling, especially in Western nations, is one major example of this prophecy being fulfilled. Only 50 years ago, most Christian Americans thought of all gambling as being evil. The gamblers went to Nevada and New Jersey. But many things have changed. Today, most people don't read the Bible, know much of what it says or pay much attention to the Ten Commandments. Governments have legitimized gambling with state-run lotteries and other forms of legalized gambling. And people tend to think that if something is legal, it is mora—which often is not true.
With the boom in betting comes the corrupting consequences: deep indebtedness, depression, despair, broken homes, criminal behavior, suicides and many other tragic repercussions that affect individuals, their families and society.
Will a large number of gamblers become addicted to gambling?
Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin."
Just look at the statistics. A large percentage of gamblers are already addicted. Many would not admit it, because they are in denial. A gambler may admit to having "a few problems" with it—like spending too much money, getting deeper into debt and spending too much time away from family—but it may take a major crisis ("hitting bottom") before he or she admits to being a problem gambler, a compulsive gambler or an addicted gambler—enslaved to gambling.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
We are creatures of habit. The more we do anything, the more it becomes routine. One bad habit leads to others, and a bad habit often becomes a psychological addiction, which is enslavement. God wants you to be free from bad habits and addictions.
It's easy to see why gambling is addictive. A win is a thrill that whets the appetite for more. A loss is often followed by more playing in hopes of recouping the loss. And, for many, it is escapism from reality and responsibility. (The "Related Resources" listed below offer valuable guidance in dealing with addictions.)
How does gambling relate to the Tenth Commandment against coveting?
"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 is your neighbor's."
Covet means desire, but it implies a wrong kind of desire, like greed. When you gamble, you are coveting your "neighbor's" money. You are not earning the money or offering goods or services in exchange for his (or her) money. You want his money while offering nothing in return. Therefore, your desire for his money is coveting.
And Paul said that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5; see also Ephesians 5:5). Why? Because it is a desire that is stronger than your desire to love God and put Him first in your life.
What does the Bible teach about materialism?
1 Timothy 6:9-10
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Materialism—the love of money and the things money can buy—is related to coveting, and as this scripture shows, it is often self-destructive. Someone is materialistic when money and physical things have become more important than relationships and spiritual values. The Bible says, "How much better to get wisdom than gold!" (Proverbs 16:16). And being materialistic can cause you to lose out on the most valuable thing of all—eternal life! Jesus said, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:24).
How does the biblical definition of love relate to gambling?
1 John 3:16-17
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Love can be defined as "the give way" rather than "the get way." God is the greatest giver: "He gives to all life, breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25). He is the source of "every good gift and every perfect gift" (James 1:17). Therefore, God wants us to follow His example and live a life of giving. Use your time, talents and energy to give to others. Gambling, however, is focused on get, not give.
How is gambling contrary to the biblical work ethic?
Proverbs 13:11 (New Living Translation)
Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows.
This verse is contrasting all "get-rich-quick" schemes, including gambling, with honestly earning an income. Consider also: "A greedy person tries to get rich quick, but it only leads to poverty" (Proverbs 28:22, New Living Translation). Money gotten quickly usually disappears quickly.
The Bible repeatedly praises hard work as noble and a key to success. See Proverbs 10:4; 12:11; 21:5; 28:19-20. Spend your time productively, such as in getting an education, working and serving others.
How should parents teach their children about important issues of life, including gambling?
You shall teach [God's ways] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
God encourages parents to make teaching an everyday part of life. This includes discussing good and bad examples from the news, from entertainment and from personal experiences.
Tragically, real-life examples probably won't be hard to find. Some researchers consider gambling the fastest-growing teenage addiction. The youth of America today have never seen life without legalized gambling, which makes it seem acceptable. Eventually many of them will be tempted and pressured by their peers to gamble.
So what can we do to steer them in the right direction? Children need good role models. If adults don't practice what they preach, their words will do little good. If we don't want our children to be gamblers, then we must set the example. Then all during their growing up years, we need to thoroughly teach them what is wrong with gambling (and the typical sleazy culture of casinos) and teach all the right things they need to do with their lives.
What about private gambling and gambling when losses are limited to a few dollars?
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
Here are two common questions: What about putting a few quarters in a slot machine "for the fun of it"? And what about a private game among friends when the maximum amount anyone can lose is very small? Aren't these harmless exceptions?
First, remember how addicting gambling is. Big habits generally begin with small steps.
Second, these are matters of personal conscience. There are differences of opinion among people of godly character. But we encourage you to think in terms of principle. Going back to the previous section, what if you had a son or daughter watching you? Wouldn't your example make it more difficult to convince him or her of the evils of gambling? Why not just play for poker chips, match sticks or a high score? With all decisions that we face, let's ask ourselves, "What would Jesus choose to do?"
How can I get the strength I need to overcome my gambling addiction?
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
First, you must come to the point where you fully acknowledge that you have a progressive addiction, and therefore you must stop all gambling and permanently abstain from it. If you go back to it, your compulsive behavior will start back as strong as ever.
Then turn your life over to God. The Bible reminds us over and over to rely on God by reading the Bible, praying and even fasting for His help and strength. Be aware that one of the keys to answered prayer is obedience to God's commandments (1 John 3:22). Those who repent and are baptized can receive the Holy Spirit by which God strengthens us. And remember that no matter how many times you slip up, whenever you are sincerely sorry, ask for God's forgiveness and recommit to avoiding the sin, He will always forgive (1 John 1:9).
The Bible also teaches us to reach out to others for help (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Two people can be much stronger than one alone. Take advantage of all the resources and supports available to you—factual information, professional counseling, your minister, godly friends and support groups. (Gamblers Anonymous gives excellent support and doesn't cost anything.) And ask others to pray for you (James 5:16).
Once you are in control of your life, you will experience real peace and joy. May God guide and bless you as you pursue recovery.