Does the Bible really say that gambling is wrong? I realise that it’s one of those activities – like dancing and playing cards – that religious conservatives have traditionally been "against." But I’m not convinced that there’s any solid biblical basis for their opposition to what I regard as innocuous games of chance.
Let us begin by acknowledging that there is a significant difference between government-sanctioned casinos and lotteries and a game of poker among friends. What we have to say below is written primarily with the issue of legalised gambling in mind.
Places like Vegas in America might be synonymous with gambling, but the United States are nowhere near us in terms of gambling losses per person. Australia is by far the gambling capital of the world when it comes to gambling losses per capita. According to a 2017 study by H2 Gambling Capital, gambling losses per capita in Australia were $US958 that year. In second was Hong Kong at $768 per capita – the United States was ninth with $421 lost per capita. Driving this national addiction are the country’s 196,000 electronic poker machines. With the exception of Western Australia, pokies are allowed not just in casinos but in pubs and social clubs, where they are plentiful. Read more here
There are a number of fundamental Scriptural principles that come into play here, and we’d suggest that the first and most important is the emphasis Jesus places on love: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The truth is that gambling isn’t as “innocuous” as you seem to suppose. It’s actually predicated on the losses, pain, and suffering of others. For one to win at gambling, others must lose. And sometimes the biggest losers are the gambler’s closest loved ones. Families touched by a gambling addiction are at increased risk for such negative outcomes as divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, and suicide. For more on this aspect of the problem we suggest you consult the following biblical passages: Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31, 10:25-37; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-4; Hebrews 13:1-2.
Gambling also exploits and preys upon the desperation of the poor
The Australian Institute of Family Studies found that gamblers living in low-income households spent, on average, a much greater proportion of their household’s total disposable income on gambling than high-income households (10% vs 1%). This is clearly at odds with a biblical ethic. Scripture exhorts us to look out for the poor and disadvantaged, and issues strong warnings against those who try to take advantage of their plight. See Proverbs 14:21, 14:31, 22:16; Isaiah 3:14-15; Amos 5:11-12; Zechariah 7:10a.
In addition, gambling undermines the work ethic which has been part of God’s design for mankind from the very beginning. Time and time again the Bible tells us to supply our own needs and those of our families by engaging in productive labour (Proverbs 31, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, 1 Timothy 5:8). And that’s not all – Christians are also exhorted to work in order to have something to share with others (Ephesians 4:28). Gambling works against this by promising something for nothing. If you need further scriptural proof, take a look at Genesis 2:15; Exodus 20:9; Proverbs 12:11, 13:4, 20:4, 21:25, 28:19.
Then there’s the problem of greed
In 1 Timothy 6:9-10 the apostle Paul writes, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Closely related to greed is the vice of covetousness, which is prohibited by the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17). Gambling, of course, is all about “getting rich quick” and obtaining the resources of others without providing anything of value in return. See Proverbs 15:27, 28:20; Matthew 6:31; Luke 12:15; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 13:5.
Good stewardship practices are also impacted negatively by the gambling impulse
A Christian is responsible before God to invest the resources entrusted to him soberly and wisely, as the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes clear. All too often money spent on gambling is money that should have been used to provide for a family’s basic needs or to advance a worthy cause. Gambling is always an unwise investment with an almost-certain negative return. What’s more, it propagates an immoral, predatory and exploitative industry. For more on this, see Genesis 1:26; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:17.
In connection with this last thought, it’s worth pointing out that gambling operations are steeped in deceit. Lotteries that conceal or misstate the odds, casinos without clocks or windows to hide the passage of time, slot machines programmed for “near misses,” and “riverboat” casinos that cannot sail are but a few examples. Scripture, on the other hand, detests deceitful conduct. See Psalm 5:6, 26:4, 55:23, 101:7; Proverbs 14:8, 12:20, 24:28; Romans 1:29.
Furthermore, the Bible states plainly that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33), and it’s common knowledge that gambling establishments are often host to many other corrupting vices, including prostitution, drunkenness, and drug abuse. Christians are urged to flee temptation and to avoid environments characterised by activities of this nature. See 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
To all this, we should add that state-sanctioned gambling is a travesty in that it overturns the God-ordained purpose of government. That purpose, as outlined in Romans 13:1-5, is to protect the welfare of the citizenry and suppress evil. Legalised gambling does the opposite. It victimises many people, especially the most vulnerable. It also condones and promotes a vice that has historically been repressed specifically because of its inherent debilitating and corruptive nature.
Finally, gambling undermines a believer’s trust in God
The Bible teaches that Christians are to look to Him as their sole provider and to be content with the material blessings they receive from His hand. Involvement in gambling indicates both lack of trust and dissatisfaction with the Lord’s provision. See, for instance, Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:11-12, 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5.