Gambling and Sin: Is it a Sin for Christians to Gamble?

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By COGwriter

Gambling is a big industry. Millions, if not billions, of people gamble.

Is gambling just harmless fun?

Is gambling a sin? What is sin?

Is it always a sin to gamble?

This article will address those questions. A related video is Gambling: A Covetous Sin?

The Gambling Industry

The gambling industry calls itself the gaming industry. Basically, they like to indicate that they are in the entertainment industry. And while that is slightly true, many people who gamble are not just playing games, but focused on winning money and hoping not to lose it.

And sometimes gambling is simply gaming.

Once, when my wife and I were waiting for our lunch in a small restaurant in the Netherlands, we saw some type of what we thought looked like a Dutch video or pinball game combination. We thought it might be fun to try it as it did not look like anything we ever has seen in the USA. It cost about 25 cents ($0.25) US to play. Well, apparently we were doing fairly well and a man right next to us somehow conveyed that we were winning money. This was a surprise as we did not know it was a gambling device and we were not sure how to play it. We ended up winning about the price of the inexpensive lunch. So, yes, gaming can be okay and harmless fun.

But frequently it is not.

Many deceive themselves about what they would do with large gambling winnings.  Some gambler seem to try to make some type of deal in their heads with God, hoping that He will decide that they should win.

A decade or so ago, I recall a scene from a movie called Bruce Almighty and the lottery.  The premise of the movie was someone named Bruce (played by Jim Carry) complained about God and how he did not feel that God was doing His job right. So, in the movie, God allowed Bruce to be able to hear and answer prayers for a region.

It does not take long for Bruce to get overwhelmed by the process.  So, for a time he decides to give everyone whatever they asked for. So, with the next lottery ticket drawing, all those in the area Bruce was responsible for, were allowed to win. The winners all acted very pleased when they won, until they realized that each would only get a few dollars as the prize was split among all who asked 'God' to win in that area. They were not pleased that they had to share the winnings with so many others.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:4)

I suspect that many have prayed that God would allow them to win the lottery or other forms of gambling. Few, if any, have prayed that someone they are not close to, will win.

Could this be a sin?

What is Sin?

What is sin?

The Bible teaches:

4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4, NKJV, throughout except when otherwise stated)

4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4, KJV)

What laws are not to be transgressed?

The Ten Commandments.

The tenth of which has to do with covetousness.

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 is your neighbor's." (Exodus 20:17)

Some will say that they are not directly coveting something of their neighbor's when the gamble. But Jesus broadened that a bit, as somewhat did the Apostle Paul. Notice:

15 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." (Luke 12:15)

7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." (Romans 7:7)

Covetousness can be a problem that most do not realize:

The Last — But Not the Least by Richard H Wilkinson

Not too long ago a prominent clergyman wrote that in all his years of listening to confessions, he had not once heard the sin of coveting confessed.

Interesting. Could it be because, humanly, it is easy to think of the Ten Commandments as descending in order of importance, and to not take the Tenth Commandment as seriously as the nine before it?

The last of God's Ten Commandments, "You shall not covet" (Ex. 20:17), is just as encompassing and significant as any of the others.

The English word covet in the Bible is translated from seven different words that illustrate the different forms coveting may take. Let's look at the meanings of these words.

1) That which is not ours. The word usually translated "covet" means to desire in a negative way, to want what is not rightfully ours. This is the Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:17; the verse speaks of our neighbor's property.
An interesting example of the use of this word is in Exodus 34:24, where God promises ancient Israel: "I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year."
God promised to protect His people's property from the greed of their neighbors if Israel would obey Him and keep His festivals. When Israel didn't keep God's Holy Days, God did not protect them from this basic form of human covetousness (Judg. 2:11 -23).

2) Dishonest gain. Another word often translated "covet" has the connotation of wanting something but not being willing to pay the price for it. It is not necessarily that the object of desire could not rightfully be ours, but we want it dishonestly. Ezekiel speaks of princes of Israel who were " like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain" (Ezek. 22:27). The phrase dishonest gain is translated from this second word.
Gambling, in its various forms, reflects this kind of coveting when it is based on the human desire to get and yet avoid paying the price.

3) Wanting for the wrong reasons. A third Old Testament word for "covet" means wanting something for the wrong reasons. It is in this sense that the prophet Amos wrote, "Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18). We can desire a good thing for wrong reasons.

4) Overvaluing the physical. In the New Testament we find instruction regarding another kind of coveting: setting too high a value on some physical thing. Paul wrote, "I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel" (Acts 20:33).
In Genesis 25:29-34 we see this attitude displayed in Esau's desire for Jacob's pottage. Hebrews 12:16 warns us against being a "profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright." The word profane here means not putting enough value on the proper things, and especially the things of God.

5) Wanting more and more. Ever heard the expression, "Some people are never satisfied"? One of the words translated "covet" in the New Testament comes from a root meaning "to get more," "to overreach," "to be moved by greed."
It is not wrong to exercise diligence and the principles of success, but God's Word clearly says that a dissatisfied attitude — one of always desiring more — is only another form of covetousness. Paul used this word when he wrote of "covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5 ).

6) Obsessive desire. Another word used in the New Testament refers to a deep desire. A desire is not wrong of itself (see I Timothy 3:1), but this word can also reflect an inordinate or obsessive desire. (Good News, May 1983)

Covetousness is wrong and is sin. Gambling is often driven by covetousness, and even when not, often leads to covetousness.

Encounters with Gamblers

Herbert Armstrong related some of his encounters with gambling, beginning with a story about someone else's mother:

All mom cared about was card games. She played cards and bingo five and six nights a week. She even use the money that Len and me made working after school. Then, Leonard added, when she got mad, she'd curse at us and tell us that we were just in the way, that if it weren't for us that she could be free and have a good time. The boys describe the professional card games, to which there mother was addicted. She would pay fifty-cents or a dollar for a seat at the table, and then play cards until she was either broke or intoxicated with winnings, which she would take back and lose the next night. You know, that's one thing about gambling, incidentally I'm going to break in here since that's been mentioned.

   I don't know whether you read the article by the owner of one of the biggest, I guess the biggest gambling house up in Reno, one of the biggest gambling houses in the whole United States, of the whole world. And of course, gambling is legal up there. But anyway, this gambling house owner said, he want to answer the question, 'do we cheat or is it straight or is it crooked in our gambling house'? No, he said, we don't have to cheat. It's absolutely straight. And that's the truth in these gambling houses. They don't have to cheat. Not at all. It's fixed in a certain way. For instance, the roulette tables and things of that sort. By the law of average it's fixed that the house is going to get a certain slight break on it and a profit provided it breaks even as it does of course over thousands of plays or thousands of dollars, or however you want to rate it. But here's the way he explained it. They don't have to cheat and they don't have to keep anything hid or crooked or anything of the sort. They're piling up money and they're making themselves millionaires running these gambling houses without it. And here's why, it's a matter of human nature.

   A man comes in to gamble. It gets into his blood. If he begins to win a little bit, he wants to win more. And he can't stop. He can't stop when he's ahead; he hasn't got sense enough to stop because he all intoxicated with the whole thing by that time. He's got to win more. Just a little more and then I'll quit. But before he gets that little more, where he willing to quit, at least before he comes to the time where he's willing to quit, he begins to lose. Well, if he loses a little bit, now he got to keep on long enough to get that back. But probably he goes on losing more and more. Now he's got to get that back. Well, if he gets a little of it back, he has got up where he wanted, so he keeps on. Pretty soon he gets down even and now he's got to get back again up on top. Well, then he begins to lose and go under. Now, he has less than he came in with. Well, now he got to continue to play until he gets at least even with the game. He can't quit behind that game. So he keeps on and it goes up and down; up and down and of course it goes back and forth and then there's a good many games that's an even 50-50 break between him and the house but, you know first he winning and then they are winning. But the thing is when he winning he never can stop until he gets just a little more. He hasn't won quite enough to stop. And when he's behind he can't quit until he gets back up ahead again. And so what does he do? Well, he continues until he's broke. Now, the thing is, the house never goes broke. The house has enough money, they don't have to stop. They have more money than the customer and the customer continues to gamble until he's broke. Now, one of them has got to go broke because they wont quit. And it is always the customer who goes broke and so the house gets their money.

   Now, actually, as this man said, and they have cards all over as you're driving anywhere in the western whole third of the United States you'll see the cards of this house or their billboards up all over the highways in every place. And, it was an article in one of our largest popular national magazines, I think, where this was written. I think it was some years ago now but not too long it comes back to me, I remember. Now, he says, supposing a man does win 10,000 dollars or something at gambling at his house? Do they hate to give it him? Why no, they're perfectly glad to give it to him. Not only that, they want to publicize that, they want everybody to know how much this man won because that makes everybody else want to come and win. Of course, the others aren't going to win most of them are going to lose. Now, in the law of averages, once in a while a man wins and has enough sense to quit when he's ahead.

   As a matter of fact, I had business over in Las Vegas one time, and I was over there to see a man, who I had been informed wanted to make a donation to Ambassador College. And, we were staying in a certain hotel, and we were to see the man as we drove over and got there in the evening or late at night and we were to see him the next morning. Well next morning, the man who was, well our agent and taking care of this matter for us, came to see me and he said, well, he said, you know something that you maybe didn't know, this man has a part interest in one of our casinos here and he said there were two or three men from Hollywood that were over here last night and took the thing for I think for was over a hundred thousand dollars, I believe it was something like a hundred and ten thousand dollars. And they quit when they were ahead. Now, that was such a lost; that really hit the gambling casino, that hit the owners and the management and they said that he had such a headache, that he wasn't going to feel like donating anything today and so we didn't see him. Well, of course I didn't know that he was in the gambling business or anything of that sort because this man had a very high reputation. And, one of the best thought of men in the state, as far as that is concerned.

   Now, what actually happened to those gamblers, did they quit a hundred and ten thousands dollars ahead? I think that was the amount. Maybe it was more. It might have been over two-hundred thousand; I did,.. it was a terrific amount, I don't just remember. I believe it was! Come to think about it, I believe it was over two-hundred thousands dollars. And I believe it is in what they call a 'crap' game; that's shooting dice, you know. I don't know much about it, cause I've never done it. Never in my life have I ever gotten into such a game and I don't understand it. I'd seen it, when I'd been over there, you have to walk past those places to get to the dining room. But, I never stopped long enough to have it explained and I don't understand the game and I don't care to understand it.

   But nevertheless, here's what happened to those fellows. They went over to another gambling casino from there, where they lost a big share of their money. And then they went to another one where they got cleaned out and lost all the money they'd come with and in addition to that hundred or two hundred thousands dollars they'd won. And so, this one gambling casino lost but the others made it up, and that's the way it goes. You know, you might just as well realize, my friends, you just can't beat it. There's no use of trying. Too many people in America are just trying to get something for nothing. They're trying to get money without earning it.

   Now, I've heard of a lot of people who will go to Reno or to Las Vegas to gamble. And, will make a trip once or twice a year. And, they set aside a certain amount of money. And they say its their pleasure and they enjoy it. They go there with a certain allowance, a certain amount of money. They know they're going to lose it. But they feel that's their way of spending that much money for pleasure. So they gamble, and it may last two, three or four days, they take enough money to let it. They win, then they get behind then they get ahead and then they get behind. But they keep on until they're behind all the money that they set apart that they come with; there to gambling. And, when it gets to that point, they quit and go home. Now there are people that go to Las Vegas every year who do it just that way. But what fun they get out of that; I never could see.

   You know, some people can get dope in them. They start out with marijuana and then they go into heroin. And they get to the place they crave it and they have to have more. Well, it just isn't healthy. Don't ever get yourself to the place where you crave that sort of thing. Now, I've never been inoculated with it. What fun they can get out of it, I've, I've seen them in gambling dens, I've had to walk past those places. And, I don't see them looking really happy. They don't have their faces wreathe and smiles and happiness and just exuding joy and seeing how much good they can do for everybody and everything in that sort,..

   No, the best you can say is there just came for excitement, but most of them have a worried look. And I've seen some that had a terrible worried look before they got through and I've heard of many cases, in Las Vegas, for instance, and places like that, where people come in there, they lose all they got and where men will gamble away all of the money they had and they'd plan on something that the family needed and was going to do but they thought they could run it up just a little more money. Well, they don't do it, they lose all they had. If they do run up a little bit they haven't got sense enough to quit when they're ahead. Course you think probable you'd quit when you're ahead, oh no, you wouldn't, you're human just like everybody else. Very few ever do. And if they quit when they're ahead in one place, why they lose it later. And it's just like this boy said, if his mom got a head tonight, she'd lose it tomorrow night. Now that's human nature. You know that sort of thing just does not pay...

Well, to get back, and since I've started this I'd better finished this little story and show you exactly what happened. Now this Leonard added that when this woman got back home, she was mad, she'd curse at us and tell us that we're just in the way and if it weren't for us she could be free and have a good time. The boys describe the professional card games. Only, I guess I was a little farther along, I'm reading this, of course, something that I whip out. I was down here where she would lose the next night, whatever she'd win one night if she did win gambling. Well, that's the way it goes. Now, the boy's father, as they described him was well intentioned but weak and unable to do anything about it. When, their mother, isn't that the common idea today, yes, just as I told you, now that's in the Bible too.

   A lot of things are in the Bible that makes sense. Only, most of you say, I just don't understand the Bible. And you some how got it in your head that the Bible doesn't make any sense. So, let me tell you it does. If you think that, you just haven't understood it. (Armstrong HW. Hebrews Series 13 - Juvenile Delinquency. Radio broadcast, transcript at http://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbroadcast&InfoID=1333120240&SearchWhat=KeyWord&SearchFor=gambling&page=0&return=search#.U2UHa1fStUM)

Most people lose discipline and lose money when they gamble. Slot machines, paramutual horse racing, etc. are programmed to guarantee it, while human nature tends to further increase the losses.

What About Casting Lots?

In the Bible, sometimes it is shown that lots were cast in order to determine God's will (Acts 1:23-26). This was something that God seemed to utilize prior to the pouring out of His Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. While there may be possible place for this, it does not seem to have been a practice Christians felt needed to be continued. The sacred nature of appealing to God this way is another reason to be cautious about participating in carnal gambling.

Who Loses the Most Gambling? Who Wins the Most Gambling?

A 2014 report showed who lost the most from gambling:

February 5, 2014

The gambling industry around the world is huge, but the biggest market is the United States, where gamblers lost a staggering $119 billion in 2013…

Some gamblers believe they are lucky or special and will beat the odds and win — it is untrue for the overwhelming majority of players. Inexperienced gamblers (and investors) may fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect — the tendency for unskilled individuals to overrate their skill and ability, and underrate the difficulty of the task at hand. They may also create narrative fallacies and rationalizations to justify their belief that they can beat the odds and win.
So that covers the behavior of many casual gamblers, but for problem bettors, the issue is often addiction.
http://theweek.com/article/index/255982/how-did-americans-manage-to-lose-119-billion-gambling-last-year

The article showed a chart of gambling losses per adult by nation, the biggest losers were those in Australia.  Here is a listing of the nations whose people lost the most money per adult:

  1. Australia
  2. Singapore
  3. Finland
  4. New Zealand
  5. United States
  6. Italy
  7. Ireland
  8. Norway
  9. Canada
  10. Sweden
  11. Britain

The Australians lost over USD$1000 per adult in 2013, whereas the Brits lost just under $400 per adult.   It was interesting to note that the American and Anglo-Saxon nations had six of the eleven top biggest gambling losing nations in the world.

Since Australia was listed as first, I thought the following in the July-August 1983 edition of the old Plain Truth magazine would be of interest to some:

  Commenting about the state of the nation, Australian teacher, writer and critic Bill Broderick is quoted in Time, September 22, 1980, as saying of modern Australia, “God is dead. Only in sport, gambling and sex is there hope of salvation. Nothing can shake the country of this cynicism except some catastrophe on a national scale.”
In Hosea 5:14 God says, “For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion… I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and NONE SHALL RESCUE HIM.”

Placing their confidence in gambling and not God is not new for many Australians, or others for that matter. Christians are to have faith in God (see Faith for Those God has Called and Chosen and/or a related sermon titled: Faith for the Called and Chosen.).

The way the odds are stacked for almost all games (blackjack can be an exception, though the casinos tend to forbid stop successful blackjack players after a while--actor Ben Afflect was claimed to have barred from playing blackjack at the Hard Rock Cafe casino in Las Vegas, because casino security told him: "You are too good at the game." A later report said he was allowed back), the casinos win the most from gambling.

Governments, in a sense, do also as the odds of winning at government lotteries is normally a lot lower than the odds at casinos. However, because I feel that lotteries are a tax on the poor and function as a tremendous DISINCENTIVE for people to better their lives, I am not convinced that most governments are better off financially, overall, than they would be if they did not sponsor lotteries. Government lotteries play off the lust, hopes, and covetousness of their people.

Am I saying that all gambling must be a sin? No. Sometimes it is minor entertainment. But because it has a tendency to lead to covetousness, for most people it is best to be avoided most of the time.

Paul also wrote:

9 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. 10 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. (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

This does not mean that Christians should not try to improve their financial conditions through honest work.  But it is a warning about how far to pursue money.

Jesus taught that His followers were to pray:

13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13)

We are also to not lead our own selves into temptation. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What may tempt some, does not seem to have the same affect on some others (cf. Galatians 6:1).

Do not deceive yourself (cf. 1 John 1:8) if you have a gambling problem.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

If gambling may negatively affect your financial standard of living, become an obsession, or lead to covetousness, it should be avoided.

Many governments are looking at extending the legality of gambling. I consider lotteries and similar programs as a tax on the poor. I believe it often demotivates people to improve themselves financially and often gets people to be focused on getting something for nothing.

A related video is Gambling: A Covetous Sin?

Thiel B. Gambling and Sin. http://www.cogwriter.com/gambling.htm (c) 2014/2016 0109

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