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Bible study on gambling.

What is gambling? Is it a sin? These are important questions we must answer to serve God faithfully, and lead others to Christ with the gospel.

"Gambling" Isn't In The Bible
The word "gambling" isn't in the Bible, as is the case with many other words associated with morality. For example, marijuana, cloning, pornography, and cybersex are moral issues of our day, which aren't specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The magnificent beauty of God's word is that it sets forth principles, whereby every generation can know the mind of God, concerning every moral issue.

Can you imagine a Bible that specifically dealt with every issue, by name, that every generation has to grapple with? Beside the fact that it would be so large we couldn't read it in a lifetime, it would deal with things far in the future we couldn't understand.

As we study this topic, we'll review Bible principles relating to gambling to determine whether it's a sin.

Gambling Defined
Gambling is "playing a game of chance for stakes" (Webster). It involves the "betting of money or valuables on, and often participation in, games of chance" (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001).

Compulsive gambling (or pathological gambling) is "a psychological disorder characterized by a persistent inability to resist the impulse to gamble. The disorder is progressive and typically results in difficulties in one's personal, social, and work life; it may lead to bankruptcy or criminal activity to obtain money. The prevalence of compulsive gambling in the United States has increased with that of gambling itself, and it has been estimated that up to 3% of the adult population may gamble pathologically" (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001).

Soldiers Gambled for Jesus' Tunic
An example of gambling is found in John 19:23-24. Here, the soldiers who crucified Jesus divided his garments into four parts, one part for each soldier. But since Jesus' tunic was seamless, they gambled for it by casting lots.

We see some of the sins involved in gambling, such as greed and covetousness, which we'll talk about later.

We also see some typical components of gambling in this example:

  • It was a game of chance, by the casting of lots.
  • It was a game where stakes were involved. Each soldier owned a fourth of Jesus' tunic, which they wagered for a chance to win the whole garment.
    • Note: Soldiers customarily divided the garments of the person they crucified. Jesus' tunic was a very valuable garment, made without seam, which each soldier would have desired more than all His garments. If they had torn the tunic into four parts, the value would have almost decreased to zero.

Activities That Are Gambling
Anytime a person wagers money or valuables, for a chance to win something in a game of chance, it's gambling.

Examples of gambling:

  • Games found at casinos such as slot machines, video poker, roulette wheels, dice games, card games, and numbers games are gambling.
  • Racetrack betting on horses and dogs are gambling.
  • Betting on the outcome of sporting events is gambling.
  • Playing the lottery, named for drawing of lots for a prize, is gambling.
  • Games where players pay a fee or make a "donation" for a chance to win a prize is gambling.
    • Such games include raffles.
    • Gambling can also be involved with bingo, if money is paid for a chance to win a prize.
  • Office pools, where betting occurs on things such as sporting events, are gambling.

Activities That Aren't Gambling
Sometimes people try to justify gambling, saying, "Everyone does it!" They cite activities such as investing in stocks, and farmers hedging investments with futures contracts, to prove that everyone gambles in one form or another.

Confusion exists when we don't differentiate between risk and gambling. It's true, there's risk in everything we do, but that doesn't mean we're gambling.

  • Driving a car, walking across the street, and playing sports have components of risk, but they're not gambling.
    • They're not a game of chance, and they don't involve stakes.
  • Owning a business is risky, but it's not gambling.
    • Many New Testament Christians owned businesses, including the apostles, but they weren't gambling. They weren't playing a game of chance, and stakes weren't involved.
  • Investing in stocks is risky, but it's not gambling.
    • The ownership of a for-profit corporation is through stock, even if it's privately held. Investing in stocks is a form of ownership, not gambling. It's not a game of chance, and stakes (in the sense of gambling) is not involved.
  • Buying an insurance policy is not gambling.
    • The purpose of insurance is to insure against loss, such as experienced in a fire, flood, or auto accident. It's not a game of chance, and there are no stakes.

Confusion also exists when we don't differentiate between a game with gambling, and a game without gambling. For example, bingo is not sinful, but when gambling is added to the game, it becomes sinful.


Six Sins Involved In Gambling

Covetousness is "a desire to have more" (Vine's) and is "a strong desire after the possession of worldly things" (Easton's).

Gamblers often covet worldly goods. Many want to acquire worldly possessions for which they have not worked, and often destroy their families, taking food from their children's mouths for a chance to strike it rich.

A covetousness person is immoral, and will not go to heaven (1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10).

Since gambling involves the sin of covetousness, we should not gamble.

Greed is an "excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves" (WordNet 2.0, 2003 Princeton University).

A greedy person is "excessively desirous of acquiring or possessing, especially wishing to possess more than what one needs or deserves" (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright 2000).

People motivated by greed become addicted, because they can never satisfy their desires (cf. Eph. 4:17-19).

As Christians we imitate God. We're not greedy (Eph. 5:1-3; cf. Col. 3:5), and we don't involve ourselves in addictive behaviors (1 Cor. 6:12). Therefore, we must avoid gambling.

Love of Money
The love of money is a form of covetousness and greed (Ec. 5:10; 1 Tim. 6:10). Many people who gamble, if not all, love money (wealth).

The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Gambling, and all the other sins associated with it (hatred, crime, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, prostitution, suicide, etc.), is an evil that results from the love of money. Therefore, gambling is a sin.

Unneighborly Behavior
We are commanded to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:39). Gamblers seek to harm their neighbors, taking advantage of them, for their own personal gain. They wrong their neighbors and thereby sin, rather than doing good (Rom. 13:10).

The gambler "desires the property of his neighbor without any compensation, and thus works ill to him. The dealer in lotteries desires property for which he has never toiled, and which must be obtained at the expense and loss of others" (Barnes).

"Lust" is a strong desire to sin.

The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are of the world (1 Jn. 2:16). We are tempted when we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed (Jas. 1:14). Christians must flee lusts, by pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace (2 Tim. 2:22; cf. Jas. 4:7-10; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).

When people gamble they're pursuing the sinful desires of the flesh, rather than pursuing the things of God. They are involved in activities resulting from covetousness, greed, the love of money, and hatred, rather than righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Lustful desires are sinful. People who gamble have lustful desires toward money and the sins associated with gambling, especially in the heat of the moment, when fortunes are won and lost in an instant.

The lustful desires of gambling are sinful, besides the activity itself. Therefore, gambling is a sin.

Licentiousness is a sin (Eph. 4:17-19; Jude 1:4). It's excess, absence of restraint, indecency, and wantonness. When a person lusts after something and doesn't restrain himself, the result is licentiousness.

Sinful, unrestrained desires (licentiousness) to gamble, result in the sin of gambling.

Abstain From Every Form of Evil
Gambling involves a number of different sins. In this article, we've reviewed a few of those sins: covetousness, greed, love of money, unneighborly behavior, lust, and licentiousness.

God commands us to abstain from every form of evil (1 Th. 5:22).

Since gambling is a form of evil, we must abstain from it. If we don't, we sin.


The Fruits of Gambling

In Matthew 7, Jesus sets forth a principle that He applies to false prophets.

"So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit" (Matt. 7:17-18).

In other words, if something is sinful, it bears bad fruit. And if something is good, it bears good fruit.

Jesus applies this principle to false prophets, teaching the disciples to distinguish them from God's prophets by examining their fruits. He concludes by saying, "So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20).

Examine the Fruits of Gambling
Jesus and the apostles use this principle many times, to teach us about sin. Now, let's use it further to investigate the sinfulness of gambling.

If gambling is sinful, it will exhibit bad fruit. But if it is righteous and holy, it will exhibit good fruit.

Lottery Winners' Lives Are Worse
Search the Internet and you'll find numerous stories of lottery winners whose lives are worse after winning the lottery. And if you read stories regarding the rate of bankruptcies for lottery winners, you'll find that about one-third of them file for bankruptcy.

"8 Lottery Winners Who Lost Their Millions," a MSN Money story, reveals some of gambling's bad fruit.

The subtitle summarizes the story, "Having piles of cash only compounds problems for some people. Here are sad tales of foolishness, hit men, greedy relatives and dreams dashed."

As advertised, the story tells about people whose lives are worse after winning the lottery, rather than better.

William "Bud" Post, who won $16.2 million, and now lives on Social Security, said, "I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare."

Among others, the MSN story also tells of an unnamed family that won $4.2 million. The man and woman are now divorced; the woman lives in a small house, and the man lives with children. Their financial advisor said, "It was not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

The fruits of gambling reflect what we've learned from the Bible. Gambling is a sin.

Health Problems and Higher Suicide Rate Among Gamblers
A number of studies link suicide to gambling., a Canadian media company, ran a story February 12, 2008, titled "Loto-Quebec Stats Show Suicides Linked To Gambling." Loto-Quebec admitted that two suicides were "directly related to gambling in a casino and six attempted suicides and numerous heart attacks as well" (

Information about the negative effects of gambling is not new. The New York Times ran a story December 16, 1997, titled, "Suicide Rate Higher in 3 Gambling Cities, Study Says." It tells about a study by Dr. David Phillips who "examined death certificates in major gaming cities in the United States -- Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Nev., and Reno -- and found that suicide rates were up to four times higher than in comparably sized cities where gambling is not legal."

We Know Gambling is a Sin
The stories are endless about people who ruined their lives by gambling, resulting in suicide, divorce, broken homes, poverty, bad health, and more.

Although we have compassion for such people, this helps us understand the sinfulness of gambling, realizing it bears bad fruit.

Jesus says, "So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20). We know gambling is a sin, not only because it involves numerous sinful behaviors, but also because of its fruit.


Arguments in Favor of Gambling

It's Legal
Certain forms of gambling are legal in our country, depending on the state. But that doesn't mean its not a sin.

There are a number of legal activities that are sins.

  • It's legal to commit fornication. But, it's a sin.
  • It's legal to divorce for a reason other than sexual immorality, and marry another person. But, it's a sin.
  • It's legal to get drunk. But, it's a sin.
  • It's legal to have an abortion. But, it's a sin.

Peter teaches us to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29).

Since God's law takes precedence over civil law, we can't justify a behavior based solely on whether it's legal. A civil law can't turn a sinful activity into a holy activity.

Gambling is a sin, whether it's legal or not.

The Lottery Funds Education
Men try to justify sin with the good it produces, resulting in expressions like "the ends justify the means" and "situation ethics."

People try to justify white lies with the good they produce. For example, if you tell someone you like what they're wearing, when you really hate it, the lie is justified because you made them feel better.

Examples of other behaviors people try to justify, because of the good allegedly produced, is euthanasia, abortion, and theft.

Many people try to justify the lottery because part of the revenue goes to education, which is good. A story in the New York Times says, "State officials have long justified being in the numbers game by repeating, mantra-like, that the money is earmarked' for education" (New York Times, Clyde Haberman, April 2, 1999).

Whether we're talking about lies, euthanasia, abortion, theft, or the lottery, no activity is justified based on resultant good deeds.

The only way we can tell whether an activity is sinful or righteous is to study God's word, and come to the knowledge of the truth concerning the activity.

As we've already learned from God's word, gambling is a sin. No matter what good may be done with the proceeds, gambling is not justified.

I'm Trying to Help My Family
People use the excuse, "I'm trying to help my family" to justify sins like suicide, prostitution, selling drugs, stealing, and lying.

Lot's daughters got their father drunk and committed incest to try and help their family (Gen. 19:31-38). But that didn't erase the sin, although the good they intended was accomplished, and their family was preserved through Lot.

It doesn't matter if we're trying to accomplish something good, we can't sin to do it. We can't gamble to help our family, any more than enter into prostitution to help them.

It's a Donation
Sometimes, gambling is disguised as a donation. This often occurs with raffles by nonprofit organizations such as schools and churches.

This is a cleaver attempt to skirt the law. The fact is, buying a raffle ticket is a purchase, not a donation.

"Even if the raffle is operated by a charitable organization, the chance' to win something has value to the purchaser, and the IRS says the fair market value of a raffle ticket is equal to its purchase price. So buying a raffle ticket is considered a purchase, not a donation" (John W. Lindbloom, Huber, Ring Helm & Co., P.C.,

It's great to make a donation to a worthy cause. But don't be deceived into gambling, when someone claims that buying a raffle ticket is a donation, it's gambling.

It's Just a Few Dollars
Many sins cost just a few dollars: pornography, drunkenness, drugs, prostitution, etc.

Other sins cost nothing: murder, lying, fornication, etc.

The price of an activity doesn't determine whether it's sinful. God's word is the determining factor.

If You Bet On A Sports Game You're Playing, It's Not Gambling
A Christian told me about a person who thought he could gamble on a sports game he was playing, because the game involved skill and not chance.

The fact is, such activity in professional and amateur sports is illegal. Players who bet on their own games are considered criminals, and punished harshly.

Without doubt, placing bets on the outcome of a game you're playing, is gambling!

The Bible warns of deception (1 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 5:6; 2 Th. 2:3). We must be careful not to fall prey to the deceptions of men, or to deceive ourselves.

Gambling is a sin. It doesn't become righteous by civil law, good deeds, or a low price.