Are Gambling and the Lottery Sinful?

George C. Garrison

One morning several years ago a stranger called and said the man who owed me money, enough to support my family for a month, could not pay me. He had bet five hundred dollars on a horse race and lost. He had hoped to win and pay me off and have an equal amount for himself. The man who called was from Gamblers Anonymous. They suggested an agreement to pay it off, which never happened. We suffered the side effects of gambling. Proverbs 28:20 states, "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished."

Gambling has been around since about 2000 B.C. In the United States Gamblers Anonymous is growing rapidly and in the state of Minnesota, it has grown from one chapter to 53 in a few years. This should cause Bible teachers to teach the truth on this subject as well as related subjects of the flesh. This would help cut down on the number of young people having difficulty in this area. The sad part is that some of God's children will be lost because of gambling.

Gambling defined: "Gamble, 1. To play a game for money or other stakes. 2. To hazard; wager" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1951, 340) This is also a good definition of the present day lottery. In Gamblers Anonymous booklets the lottery is often referred to as gambling. They are of the world and yet can see that. Why cannot some of our preachers who are not of the world see it also?

In the mid-seventies the Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling found over 61 percent of American adults gamble. It is now estimated to be above 80 percent. Also, the amount gambled in the last twenty years has increased from 17 billion to over 300 billion. This is not just a local problem, most states (48) have legalized the lottery. In a book, Understanding Compulsive Gambling by Henry R. Lesieur, Ph.D. (Moody Press), Mr. Lesieur refers to the lottery as gambling several times, listing other types also, such as bingo. Gambling (lottery) is promoted by state governments as well as the Catholic Church.

Interestingly, gambling cannot be smelled on the breath and yet the wives of compulsive gamblers are said to be four times as apt to commit suicide. Ruined homes, divorces, widows, orphans, lost jobs, and an end-less list of related problems come with gambling. Will this not have an adverse effect on weak Christians, including preachers who are undecided on the subject.

Did you know, that playing the lottery is the most common form of gambling in the U.S.A.? No doubt that is why some Christians are caught up in it. It is just down the street. Are we appealing to our strengths or weaknesses in playing the lottery? Most people will be losers? For you to win, several million will have to lose. When a church or nation looks to man's weakness to raise money, not caring that it will destroy his character, that is evil.

Castings lots. Is this a form of gambling revealed in the Bible? The difference between gambling and casting lots is that this was a form of decision making. The results were in the hand of God. "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:33). See also Acts 1:21-24.

As a young boy I saw a man at a carnival trying to knock a bowling pin over with a ball connected from above by a chain. He hit it the first time and doubled his money. From then on he missed, but ever so close until he had lost well over $100.00. That was in the year of 1943. This really impressed me with the dangers of gambling. Christians should be so thankful for early training that has prepared them for temptations such as gambling and drinking. They so often go together.

Gambling leads to other sins. When they are on a losing streak and money is short they will often borrow from the household money or from their employer or steal ( Eph. 4:28). After an extended period of borrowing from friends, unable to repay them, the gambler will find the only friends he has are those of the game. When a gospel preacher or teacher gives bad advice or no advice on gambling and drinking, they can very well be assisting in a failed business, failed marriage, or a suicide. Though there are varied excuses for gambling (boredom, husband or wife drinks, runs around, or is gone a lot), a Christian will not turn to the works of Satan but will seek God's help (Psa. 46:1).

Are gamblers sick? As in the problem social drinker, the idea that the gambler was immoral or sinful has passed, they are just sick. Gambling is referred to as a disease and is also called a "disorder of impulse control." Since chemical treatment with Alcoholics Anonymous is already established, they have been prompted to include compulsive gamblers. It is thought that gamblers are "punishing themselves" rather than suffering from greed or covetousness. "So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain" (Prov. 1:19). "He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house" (Prov. 15:17). Gambling is sinful, whether it is the one armed bandits or the lottery.


"Acquisitive desire beyond reason; greediness" (Webster 's New Collegiate Dictionary, 363). It is interesting to note that some Christians who are confused on social drinking are also befuddled as to the sinfulness of the lot-tery. Greed is a synonym of covetousness. "Mortify there-fore your members and covetousness which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). Greed is not associated with any one class of people. Just be observant the next time you buy your gasoline at a quick stop and see the different kinds of folks who buy the tickets.

Psychologists identify depression as a trait of the compulsive gambler. He also has very poor judgment and does not learn from his past. The sociologist finds the gambler to be a risk taker and thrill-seeker. They begin usually as a winner, then go into a losing aspect, then on to a desperation period. A few years ago a member of the church bet on the lottery and won $5,000.00; he left the church. His picture appeared on page one of the local newspaper. What will we give in exchange for our soul (Matt. 16:26)?

Parents need to be so careful before their children and their friends. They are known to imitate their parents. Professional gambling houses consider gamblers as mice. They say that when they put fifty new slot machines in, there are simply fifty more mouse traps to catch the mice with. Is that what we want our children to be (Eph. 6:4)? When Christians (?) get up car load of friends (other Christians) to go to Reno, Las Vegas or Atlantic City to gamble, can it be anything but a work of the flesh? 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, "Abstain from every form of evil." Also, 1 Timothy 6:10 states, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." He warns us to stay away, for sorrows will come.

The church should deal with the sin of gambling as we are instructed to deal with any sin. Some when confronted and convinced that gambling is sinful will repent (Acts 17:30). Others put up a fight to their own ruin. If you are a Christian and buy a lottery ticket and win, do you think the church would accept a few thousand dollars toward their building program?

The Lord will bless us in this life. "And you shall re-member the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18). "Both riches and honor come from You … " (1 Chron. 29:12). We are warned in 1 Timothy 6:17 ". . . not to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy."

Why the lottery? In California it was to help our children by subsidizing the cost of their education. Of each dollar bet, 50% goes to the gambler, 35% to the schools and 15% to the state. A school principle who is a Christian informed me that the thirty-five percent that goes to the schools makes up less than one percent of the cost of education. He said that he voted against it.

Gambling addiction is heavier among teens at a rate of two to one. This is reason for alarm. The word gamble is not mentioned in the Scriptures, but neither is child pornography, suicide, rape, bootlegging, or larceny and we sure don't accept them. Young people can be misled by someone pointing out certain words that are not found in the Bible. We need to remember when the Scripture so clearly identifies something as sinful we don't need a specific name (Gal. 5:21).

There are proper ways to obtain money or wealth.

 Work (Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:12)

 Exchange: money or goods (Lydia, Acts 16:14; Luke 22:36; Acts 4:32-37)

 Gifts (Eph. 4:28; Matt. 2:11)

Investment returns and interest (Matt. 25:7)

Gambling income does not fall into these classifications. ' It is an unscriptural way of obtaining wealth. Gambling is covetousness which is idolatry. God's plan calls for work (Eph. 4:28), exchange (Acts 4:34), giving of gifts (Matt. 2:11).

If we are seeking wealth, Solomon says, "The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds not sorrow with it" (Prov. 10:22). Remember 2 Thessalonians 3:10: "If we don't work, we don't eat." Proverbs 12:11, "He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follow frivolity is devoid of understanding."

Remember gambling (the lottery included) is addictive! Resist (James 4:7), abstain (1 Thess. 5:22), and flee (1 Cor. 10:14)!

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Author: jfm

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