The Sin of Gambling


is gambling a harmless form of recreation

Is gambling a harmless form of recreation?

In the 1980s there was a series of movies called “Back to the Future” starring Michael J. Fox. In these movies, the main character, Marty McFly, had a special car that could travel into the past and future. In the second movie on a trip to the future, Marty allowed his nemesis, Biff Tannen (played by Thomas F. Wilson), to get possession of a sports book that recorded final scores to every major sporting event through the year 2000 (which was still 15 years away in 1985). He took this book back to himself in the year 1955 which enabled him to obtain a fortune gambling on sports. He then used this fortune to turn their clean cut home town into a Las Vegas style gambling Mecca complete with strip clubs, prostitution, and large casinos. In the movie, the place was an obvious cesspool of decadence, corruption, avarice, and immorality. That was the 1980’s perception of what gambling would do to one’s life and town.

Times have changed and those involved in the business of gambling have retooled their product, at least, to the public eye. Las Vegas has spent billions of dollars trying to change the public’s perception. They have built theme-park hotels with “family friendly” attractions. They offer free meals and cheap accommodations. They falsely “promise” that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And by and large the public has swallowed the lie hook, line, and sinker. The fact of the matter is that all of these peripheral attractions are driven by one necessary ingredient�gambling. Without the gambling, there would be no theme-park hotels, shows, free meals, cheap accommodations, and false promises of keeping secret “indiscretions.” The gambling drives it all; that is where the money is made. They know that if people will come for these other reasons, then they will gamble.

Gambling itself has also been retooled in the eyes of the public. It was once associated with mob violence, prostitution, and corruption. Today it has been recast in the minds of many to simply be another form of recreation on which to spend one’s “disposable” income. Many states have, in fact, legalized gambling in the form of lotteries, para-mutual gambling laws, or floating casinos all based upon the promise of an improved economy and better school systems. The word gambling is avoided in the industry, in favor of the term gaming as “gambling” still has such a negative connotation in the minds of many. But is gambling simply another form of recreation? Does its being legal make it right? What, in fact, is gambling?

At its most fundamental level, gambling is really nothing more than what the Bible calls covetousness. What is most commonly understood as “gambling” in our culture is to risk one’s own money to gain someone else’s money based upon some kind of chance. The American Heritage dictionary defines gambling in the following way: “To take a risk in the hope of gaining an advantage or a benefit.” The same dictionary defines covetousness as follows: “Excessively and culpably desirous of the possessions of another.” It is not hard to see that gambling is really an act of covetousness inasmuch as it is a desire to possess money that belongs to someone else through minimal investment of our own. This was exactly the attitude that Jesus rebuked in Luke 12:15 when he said to a man disputing his inheritance, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

Covetousness is repeatedly condemned in the New Testament as a sinful attitude which the Christian ought not to possess. It is listed as a sin in Romans 1:29 alongside of murder and fornication. It is listed as a sin in 1 Corinthians 5:10,11 and 6:10 among theft, idolatry and drunkenness. It is listed as a sin in 2 Timothy 3:2 among pride, blasphemy and unholiness. And Ephesians 5:5 says that those who practice it will not have any inheritance in the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5). In this regard, even if one wins at gambling, he has still sinned because he has taken something from another based upon an inordinate desire.

Gambling is also sinful because it is irresponsible. God has blessed us with earthly necessities based upon His expectation that we work for those necessities (Acts 20:34, Ephesians 4:28). God always retains ownership of these possessions (Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26). This means that we are mere stewards of these possessions and not true owners. It is our task, as stewards, to be faithful with those things and not use them irresponsibly (1 Corinthians 4:2). Can one be faithful with such things by gambling them? Can one be faithful to one’s wife by gambling her to other men? Can one be faithful with one’s life by gambling it with a game of Russian Roulette? Can one be faithful to one’s children by putting them up as a stake in a game of chance? We readily acknowledge that one simply would not be faithful by so acting. Why then, ought we to think that God sees us as faithful when we so act with His possessions?

Many say that gambling is just something they do for fun and is no different than playing a game. If such is truly the case, then why not simply pay to play the game without expecting something in return? Why doesn’t Las Vegas simply give the money back to those who lost when they walk out the door? The fact of the matter is that gambling is only “fun” when you win someone else’s money and that is the essence of covetousness. This sin is no different from any other in that regard. Sin has always been considered “fun” by those who practice it in the world. Moses refused to engage in such “fun” so that he could be with God’s people (Hebrews 11:25). Something is only “fun” if, in fact, it isn’t sinful to begin with. We may rationalize gambling as “having fun” but then so also may someone rationalize fornication, adultery, or even murder. Saying that something is “fun” doesn’t mean that it isn’t sinful.

Gambling is a great evil upon our society. It robs the poor of their hard earned money while lining the pockets of the rich. It teaches men to covet his neighbors’ possessions and wealth. It deceives with promises that usually are never fulfilled. It robs society of income that could be used for more noble projects than floating casinos and theme-park hotels. Yet each year millions throng these places of ill-repute to cast away their hard earned money. The con artist deceives himself by saying, “I don’t take money away from other people; they give it to me,” yet we recognize him as nothing more than a witty thief. Why ought we not to see the gambling industry in the same light? As Christians, let us have nothing to do with such profligate wickedness.

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