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Ethics, Morals, Behavior

Gambling: Right or Wrong?
by Ed Vasicek

On August 6th we held a "Youth Forum" involving leaders from B.A.S.I.C. Youth Group, Awana JV's, the teen Sunday School class, and parents who had researched subject matter. We tried to put together a master list of subjects we wanted covered somewhere in our youth program. Many of the subjects listed struck a chord in my mind. I thought to myself, "Vasicek, you need to deal with some of these matters for our adult members as well." One subject I realized I had rarely addressed was gambling.

While I have many faults and am by no means sinless, gambling has never been much of a temptation to me. Before I was saved, I used to gamble small amounts at the racetrack or with cards, but it never did much for me. I cannot say the same for my family. My dad was a frequent gambler, and one of my uncles tried to earn a living through gambling at horse racing. A young man who had been my best friend was arrested once for illegal gambling.

Although I have done no gambling since I became a Christian at age 17, I have known of many professing Christians who do gamble. What gambling does to a society is not my focus here: I want to look at gambling and the serious believer. What does God say about gambling? Nothing—directly. But I believe His Word offers much about this subject—indirectly. Put another way, I think we can conclude that at least most of what we call gambling is not God's preferred lifestyle for His disciples. We may draw this conclusion by looking not at commands that address gambling since there is no "You shall not gamble!" statement in Scripture, but at related commands or principles God gives us. Judge for yourselves whether I have applied these principles accurately and fairly.

First, note these statistics:

  1. In a recent survey of high school students, 50% said they had gambled at least once a year.
  2. A magazine predicts: "...gambling will be a major form of teenage recreation in the United States."
  3. "We will face, in the next decade or so, more problems with youth gambling than we'll face in the next decade with drug use."

  4. Teenage gamblers abuse drugs and alcohol 2.5 times more than their peers do.

We must not only discourage our young people from gambling, we must act accordingly. If it is wrong for a seventeen-year-old to gamble away his meager paycheck, then is it right for a seventy-year-old to hit the machines in Vegas? What is so wrong about gambling?

Because I try to be honest, I must admit that some forms of gambling may be harmless. People who play poker for pennies or occasionally buy a lottery ticket do not top my list of depraved persons. Although I am probably at an extreme end here, I personally will not even accept a free lottery ticket, but I do sometimes buy a raffle ticket for a charitable cause. I will not allow gambling for even pennies in my family (chips or grains of popcorn are okay). I do not condemn believers who play for pennies: I recognize that I may be reacting more out of emotion than reason because I have seen what gambling can do.

I do not think that gambling is wrong because it involves chance.  Chance is not necessarily evil, nor is it tempting God. Tossing a coin has solved many arguments.

I do not think that gambling is wrong because it is fun. Some Christians are suspicious of anything enjoyable. Not me. I wasn't baptized in vinegar.

I do not think gambling is wrong because I had some great-grandfather who was a devout Christian and he said it was wrong. (I might be the first saved Vasicek in hundreds of years for all I know). Nor do I think that gambling is wrong because I was brought up that way. I wasn't. Tradition has nothing to do with it. I think most or all gambling is wrong because it frequently violates the following Scriptural principles:

  1. You shall not covet. At the heart of gambling is often a desire to pick up money fast—without work, investment, or service.

    Proverbs 13:11 reads, "Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow." We might argue whether money won in gambling is dishonest, but it is clear that the way to build finances is "slow and steady."

  2. The Bible tells us to nurture contentment. At the heart of gambling are discontentment and the lure of a quick fix. Gambling nurtures discontentment.
  3. Gambling is exploiting others and violates the command to "love our neighbor as ourselves." This is perhaps the greatest reason of all for avoiding it. Gambling is not the same as risk-taking or investing.  If you invest money in penny stocks and the company folds, you have lost money.  If the company succeeds, you earn money, but not necessarily at another's expense. Gambling, on the other hand, demands winners and losers.  For you to win $1,000, others must lose that amount (plus the amount that the track or bookie takes out, which often is used to support organized crime).

    What has determined who wins and loses? The way a company is managed?  How hard people work? No. Pure chance. Does loss or gain come slowly, with a chance to prepare? No, loss strikes like sudden tragedy.

  4. Gambling is highly addictive. As human beings, there are things we do as a normal part of life—things that can easily become addictive: eating can become gluttony, normal sexuality can become sexual addiction, talking can turn into habitual gossip or complaining, and work can turn into workaholism.  Frankly, we do not need to look for more things to be addicted to.

Do you remember the old "Superman" show? The star of the show eventually committed suicide to escape gambling debts. I have known many people whose lives have been adversely affected by gambling. So why go there?

Sometimes the world is more honest about right and wrong than rationalizing Christians. That's why they call Las Vegas, "Sin City."  Maybe they are on to something.

Am I saying that it is wrong to visit Las Vegas? No. But I am saying that somehow I cannot imagine Jesus gambling. The Jesus of the Scriptures is not the killjoy Jesus portrayed by some. Many Christians might be uncomfortable in some environments in which Jesus placed Himself.  Jesus had lots of fun times at weddings, celebrations, and festivals.  Would He ever buy a lottery ticket? I have an opinion but can't say one or the other with dogmatism. But gambling on the riverboats, roulette tables, or at the Vegas machines—I don't think so. I do feel dogmatic about that.  Maybe I'm not seeing something, maybe my mind is narrow. But when I ask the WWJD question—"What would Jesus do?"—it seems a no-brainer to me.
Pastor Ed

Reprinted from the September 2002 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.

Highland Park Church   516 W. Sycamore St. Kokomo, Indiana, 46901 USA   (765)452-1779    church@highlandpc.com    Main Service: Sun 10:30 a.m.