Gambling

Question

What does the Bible say about gambling? Is it a sin?

Answer

The Bible does directly address the issue of gambling, and different Christians have reached very different theological conclusions regarding the practice.

One common argument against gambling is based on "stewardship." It suggests that Christians are morally obligated to be good stewards of their resources (e.g. their money), and that gambling is not good stewardship because it puts resources at undue risk. With the assumption that everything we have belongs first to God, some people also argue against gambling on the basis that it is squandering God's property (compare Luke 16:1ff.). Others see gambling winnings as dishonest gain because they do not reward labor, while others argue against gambling because of the damage it does to those who lose. Still others see gambling as unwise, and equate foolishness with sin.

No argument against gambling, however, relies on direct scriptural teaching, or on universally necessary implications of scriptural teaching. This does not mean that none of these arguments have any merit, but it does mean that they cannot universally bind the consciences of every believer. Further, while it may be permissible to gamble, it may not be wise. Nevertheless, to be foolish is not necessarily to be sinful.

I would think that the wisdom of the issue would depend heavily on the specifics of the gambling, and the purpose of the gambling. If one gambles for fun, and spends money as on any other entertainment, there is nothing evil in the gambling -- it does not stem from lust for money, etc. If one is a really good gambler, winning more than he/she loses, then it can hardly be called foolish, squandering, or poor stewardship. As far as the argument of dishonest gain goes, the Bible never says it is a sin to have an easy job or to make a good investment.

Moreover, there is hardly anything in life that does not involve gambling or risking when we consider it in depth. As an obvious example, every time I drive my car I risk being killed in a collision. Every time I take a drink of water I risk it being poisoned. Every time I take a shower I risk slipping on the soap and breaking my neck. Every time I plant my field I gamble on when the rains may come and when the weather will be good, and risk planting too early or too late. Every time I make a business decision, I gamble with my capital, my reputation, the market, etc. The point is that nearly everything in life involves risk, and to call something a sin simply because it involves risk is to label as sinful even things that we are biblically compelled to do (e.g. work to support our families, evangelize, etc.). The assessment of different levels of risk is a wisdom issue, not necessarily an issue of right and wrong, and not everyone will come to the same conclusion on every issue. An acceptable level of risk for one person may be an inacceptable level for another.

It seems to me that the variables of the question are so broad that each situation must be judged on its own merit, and that there is no blanket prohibition on gambling.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.