What Does the Bible Say About Gambling?
Though gambling has been around for centuries, online betting has exploded in recent years. With companies like Draft Kings, FanDuel, and Caesar’s Sportsbook, people can now make wagers 24/7 from the convenience of their smartphones. Of course, the traditional ways of gambling are always available as well. Casinos are still thriving, and a short trip to your local gas station provides the opportunity to play the lottery.
Christians are immersed in this culture. It stands to reason, then, that we must ask the question: Is gambling a sin? Is it okay for a Christian to make bets on a sporting event, play poker with friends, or buy a lottery ticket?
The first thing that must be said is: the Bible does not explicitly say that gambling is a sin. But just because Scripture does not prohibit something does not mean that it’s right. Scripture doesn’t explicitly condemn using cocaine either, but I think everyone would agree that a Christian shouldn’t indulge in such a destructive behavior.
Perhaps, the better question is: Does gambling honor the Lord? Will the Lord be pleased if I make this bet or buy this lottery ticket? When we ask this question, we need to consider what the Lord thinks about such issues. And to do that, we go to Scripture to discover biblical principles.
Here are five principles from Scripture that Christians need to consider before placing a bet. (Note: Though I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I am indebted to Albert Mohler for his thoughts here.)
1. God Condemns Greed and Love for Money. Paul warned his young protégé, Timothy, that, “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith” (1st Timothy 6:9-10). Some people gamble because they love money, and that’s deadly. Judas loved money. He sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16). Ananias and Sapphira also loved money. They lied about the proceeds from the sale of their land, and it cost them their lives (Acts 5:11). Those who love money will find it hard to inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23).
2. Christians Don’t Believe in Luck. Gambling is built on the idea of luck. The word itself means playing a game of chance for money. Not every game is as random as roulette, but every bet you make requires a bit of “luck” to win. As Christians we don’t believe in luck. We believe in God. We don’t believe this universe is operating on random chance but that it is controlled by almighty sovereign God. As R.C. Sproul famously said, “If there is one maverick molecule in all the universe, then God is not sovereign. And if God is not sovereign, He is not God.” As we see in Scripture, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). Gambling, then, is inherently contrary to a Christian worldview.
3. Scripture Warns Against Trying to Get Rich Quickly. The greatest benefit of gambling is that you can win a lot of money quickly and easily. If I emptied my life savings, played one game of blackjack and the dealer busts, I’ve just doubled every dollar to my name simply by sitting down at the table. That’s enticing. It’s also dangerous, because you could also lose your life savings just as fast. But even if you do win, the Bible warns against trying to make a lot of money quickly and/or dishonestly. “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Proverbs 13:11). Blackjack might not necessarily be dishonest, but it’s not an honorable way to make money, and it’s certainly not done little by little through the hard work that pleases the Lord.
4. The Lord is Infuriated When the Poor are Exploited (Proverbs 14:31, 22:16, 22-23). You can make a case that some bets are harmless, but we don’t live in a morally neutral world. We live in a fallen, sinful world where people are greedy and willing to hurt people for gain. I will never forget driving through a poor village in the Philippines and seeing advertisements for the lottery. Some of these people made less than $2 per day and they’re being exploited for profit. The lottery is designed to attract the poor. Upper and even middle-class individuals aren’t going to spend $1-$2 on a lottery ticket at the prospect of making $10-$20. One, they know it’s unlikely they’ll win. Two, the prospect of earning $8-$18 isn’t worth the risk. But for a poor person, $8-$18 is a big deal. That’s the difference between going hungry or buying dinner. So, they will take a chance to win, and lottery companies know this. The rich exploit and encourage this kind of thinking among the poor. Casinos offer cheap games to win big prizes. They also serve inexpensive, and sometimes free, alcohol to diminish their customers’ judgment. All of this is designed to draw in the poor and get their money easily. In doing so, the Lord is displeased.
5. God Honors Hard Work and Good Financial Stewardship. God created man to work hard for his money (Genesis 2:15). It pleases the Lord when we diligently labor for our income, and He rewards hard work (Proverbs 13:4). Furthermore, God expects us to manage our finances for His glory (1st Corinthians 10:31). Money is a gift and resource from God that we must steward well. Gambling is in direct conflict with these two expectations. You don’t have to work hard to roll dice, and it’s not a good use of our money if we waste it on a few bets.
In the end, gambling is an issue of the conscience. If you play a $20 poker game with friends, personally, I don’t see the harm. You will spend more money at the movies or eating out. The main thing to consider is intent. Why are you placing that bet? Are you trying to get rich quick? Are you trying to earn easy money so you don’t have to work? Is gambling causing a problem in your family or at work? Have the people you love shown concern? Are you spending an inordinate amount of money on gambling? Another question to consider: Is gambling consuming a lot of your thinking and occupying a place of your heart where the Lord should abide? In anything we do, Christians need to think with a Christian worldview based on principles derived from Scripture. In most circumstances, gambling is simply a bet not worth playing.
Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the TJC RE:GENERATION ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.
- Cultural Christianity, Decision Making