What does the Bible say about gambling?
I have a confession to make. Every once in a while, when the lottery jackpot is worth at least a few hundred million dollars, I will spend two dollars on a lottery ticket. I don't think I've ever matched more than two numbers, but the chance at winning such a large amount of money is occasionally, to me, worth a $2 investment. In my mind, I have convinced myself that I would be able to handle the jackpot without going loony tunes like most lottery winners. I would give large amounts of money away to churches, Christian causes, Christian organizations, etc., etc. I would sponsor all of the unsponsored Compassion children in Ecuador (and/or some other country). I would only keep a small amount of the money for myself. So, why doesn't God cause me to win the lottery? More on that later. First, to the question at hand.
Let me define what exactly I mean by gambling. I would define gambling as risking money, with the goal of winning significantly more money, in something that is significantly against the odds. Whether it is buying a lottery ticket, or playing blackjack in a casino, or betting at the horse track, what all of those activities have in common is that the odds of winning are very low. Far more people will lose money gambling on those activities than will gain money. That is why the gambling industry is so successful. The reason the gambling industry can afford to occasionally give away millions of dollars is that it is consistently bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. So, with this definition of gambling in mind — what does the Bible say about gambling?
The Bible does not mention gambling per se, at least not in the sense of a command "thou shalt not gamble." But, the Bible does contain numerous principles that undeniably apply to gambling. The Bible warns us to stay away from the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5). The Bible also discourages attempts to "get rich quick" (Proverbs 13:11; 23:5; 28:20; Ecclesiastes 5:10). If anything identifies the gambling industry, it is the "love of money" and the desire to "get rich quick." The Bible also consistently teaches the importance of financial stewardship and managing money wisely. Excessive gambling definitely violates these three biblical principles. The issue becomes more difficult, though, when controlled/moderate gambling is in question.
Can you gamble, just for fun, if the love of money and a desire to get rich quick are not in mind? If the money you would spend on gambling is the money that is usually "wasted" on other things, i.e. fun money, is it wrong to gamble? Often, when people object to the GotQuestions.org stance against gambling, they will say something like, "What is the difference between spending $10 on lottery tickets vs. spending $10 on a movie and popcorn?" While I agree that there really isn't much of a difference, the question misses the point. Should we really be wasting our money on anything? Saying that other activities are as bad as gambling does not make gambling good or right.
With all of that said, let me make it clear, I believe the Bible gives us the freedom to spend reasonable amounts of money on entertainment/fun. If all other financial responsibilities are being fully and properly managed, there is nothing wrong with "wasting" a little money on a little frivolity. Could this frivolity include spending a dollar or two on lottery tickets? Perhaps. But, again, utmost caution should be taken to make sure it is not done out of a love for money or a desire to get rich. And, be warned, recent scientific studies are showing that gambling addiction can be as strong an addiction as heroin and other illicit drugs.
What does the Bible say about gambling? If you can do it free from the love of money, without the desire to get rich quick, and without detracting from taking care of other financial responsibilities—it would be a matter of Christian freedom and personal conviction. Generally speaking, it is best to avoid gambling entirely. I do not think, though, that a conclusive case against all gambling can be made from the Bible.
So, back to my opening side question: Why doesn't God cause Christians to win the lottery so the money can be given to good causes? God doesn't need the lottery to fund the causes He supports. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). If God wanted a Christian to win the lottery, He would not even need the Christian to buy a ticket. He could just as easily cause the wind to blow a ticket out of someone else's hands and land in the lap of a Christian a hundred miles away.
Hey, it's windy today. Maybe I should take my laptop and go work outside...
S. Michael Houdmann
What does the Bible say about gambling?