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 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 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Involved In Gambling
Covetousness is "a desire to have more" (Vine's) and is
"a strong desire after the possession of worldly things"
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
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.
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"
"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.
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
Since gambling is a form of evil, we must abstain from
it. If we don't, we sin.
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.
CTV.ca, 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" (CTV.ca).
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
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.
in Favor of Gambling
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;
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
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,
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
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., http://www.hrh-advantage.com).
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
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.