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Date May 8, 2006

What’s wrong with a little gambling? The 1968 Gambling Act saw gambling as something to be tolerated reluctantly and therefore to be carefully regularized and controlled, but now gambling is viewed as part of mainstream leisure. The 2005 Gambling Act allows 24-hour opening with unlimited jackpots for casinos and has among other matters approved a ‘super-casino’ in Britain. The Gambling Bill originally included plans to allow an unlimited number of such casinos which can have up to 1,250 slot machines. But the plans were reduced, first to eight following pressure from Labour backbenchers and charities, and then to one, in a deal with the opposition. Many organizations, including some churches, have lotteries, sell raffles, or run bingo games. For eleven years we have now had the National Lottery purporting to be a painless way to raise money for good causes and give a little flutter to add excitement to life but essentially undermining the morals of our nation and taxing the poor to raise money for sports facilities etc. The National Lottery is now a major institution in our country. Ticket sales rose by over £55m to £2,409m in the first half of the last financial year. That is the equivalent of £100 spent by every man, woman and child in Britain in a year. Most people see nothing wrong with lotteries.

What’s wrong with gambling?

Richard C. Leone, former commissioner for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission of the U S Congress states: ‘In my view, state lotteries have paved the way for great increases in legalised gambling. They have promoted the notion of beating the odds, they have been able to advertise while others have not, and they have propagated the myth that gambling is good for society in general and the government in particular. Lotteries are perhaps the hardest form of gambling to justify in terms of their costs and benefits. The best studies all point in the same direction: Lotteries prey on the poor and the under-educated.’

What is gambling?

What is gambling, anyway? In a booklet published by the Irish Reformed Presbyterian Church, there is this definition: ‘Gambling is an act by which one party consciously risks money or other stakes in the hope of gaining at someone else’s expense, without giving anything of value in return.’ In playing slot machines or in buying lottery tickets, one gives money in the hope that he or she will get more money in return. I would now like to look at Scriptural reasons why gambling is wrong.

Gambling is contrary to the Word of God

Whether you put money on horses, in a slot machine, on a roulette wheel, or buy a lottery ticket, it is gambling, and gambling breaks at least four of the ten commandments.

It breaks the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment is, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ Gambling is an attempt to get material gain without paying the price. Paul wrote, ‘If a man will not work, neither shall he eat’. It is work and responsibility that develop character and prepare for the future. We should not be taking something for which we cannot give value in return. The gambler who wins is a thief even as he who steals your wallet is a thief. Just because the gambler is protected by law or a gentleman’s agreement does not make him any less a thief.

For many years, we have had laws against duelling even if both parties agree to it. When someone dies in a duel, it becomes murder by common consent, but it is nonetheless murder! So gambling is robbery by common consent, and breaks the eighth commandment.

From whom is the money stolen? The people most affected by the lottery and other forms of gambling are the poor and those whose resources are limited, who see winning as the way out of their situation. It is their money that is taken. The one who wins is stealing; the one who loses is stolen from. It is a regressive activity that bleeds money from those who can least afford it.

It breaks the tenth commandment. The tenth commandment is, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s’. Basically, covetousness is greed. Greed is wanting what others have that you do not have.

We live in a culture that stimulates greed and discontent. Constantly and increasingly, we are bombarded with it in our newspapers and magazines, on the radio and TV with the graphic message: ‘You need this to be happy! You should get this to find satisfaction! You need another one of these!’ Happiness is held out as the abundance of things, and there is the constant invitation to ‘Eat, drink and be merry’. Gambling is presented as a means to enjoy that better life; and since many of our neighbours are not looking to God’s Word for guidance, they ‘go for it!’

You will find an occasional person who says that he buys lottery tickets because the money goes to a good cause. If he were really concerned about that cause, he could give directly and the cause would get more for each pound. People don’t support the lottery for what they can give; rather it is for what they can get.

As Christians, we not only want to keep from an attitude of greed; we want to be good stewards of what God has given to us. As we read in Acts 20:35: ‘Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ We believe that all that we have comes from God. In His providence He cares for His people. Therefore, we not only want to return to God a portion of what He has given, but we want to use all that He has given in ways that would be pleasing to Him. Just because we give a tenth to God does not mean that we are free to spend the other nine-tenths in any way at all. We are stewards of that as well. We are to use it wisely in providing for our needs and for the needs of others.

Gambling is poor stewardship in our use of money as we have said, if we win, we are stealing. If we lose, we are squandering what God has given us in trust.

It breaks the first commandment. The first commandment is, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before me.’ Instead of trusting God, the gambler turns to luck to solve his problems. The deeper his need, the more he hopes for that one big pay-off. Gambling makes a god of chance. The Scriptures tell us that God will supply our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus – and these are not only our spiritual needs. Certainly, we trust in Christ for salvation and eternal life, but we also trust Him for our physical needs. When we pray, as Jesus taught us, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, we are placing our lives, our skills, our circumstances, our needs, and our commitments in God’s hands and trusting that He will provide for our needs.

But if we gamble, we are demonstrating that we are not recognising God’s sovereignty, and are not fully trusting Him to provide for us.

It also breaks the third commandment. The third commandment is, ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ As the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, this commandment forbids ‘all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh Himself known’ (Ans.55). Since God’s providence is one of the means by which He reveals Himself, to make it the basis of gambling is a gross misuse and abuse of it.

In Proverbs 16:33 we read, ‘The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.’ What people call chance, therefore, is an element of God’s providence. He controls every event, even the choosing of a lottery ticket. It is not chance but God who decides which number wins. It was decided by God in the counsels of eternity. The same is true of the throw of the dice or the spin of the wheel. Gambling in any form is dishonouring to God, in that it attributes to chance what is actually the providence of God.

It may seem extreme to say that those who gamble are guilty either of atheism or profanity. But ultimately, it is true. If they believe that the outcome of gambling is wholly dependent on chance, they’re guilty of a sort of atheism – believing that God has no control. On the other hand, if they believe that the outcome depends on God, they are guilty of a sort of profanity – of using God to enable them to steal from someone else. Gambling is wrong because it is contrary to the Word of God.

Gambling is wrong because it often leads to greater sins.

Not only is this true in professional gambling, where gambling supplies much of the money for the underworld and its operations in drugs, prostitution and other crime, but it is also true for those who participate in the so-called innocent forms of gambling.

For example, the lottery is frequently seen as being innocent, yet far too often money that should be spent on groceries and other necessities is used to buy lottery tickets. While it may be argued that the amount usually spent is small, there are many families where even £10 or £15 a week can greatly affect the budget. This is particularly true in homes of poorer families who may be greatly tempted to try the lottery to relieve their poverty. Tensions may increase in the home, leading to separation or divorce.

Even for many of those who have won money in the lottery, it has not been the panacea for which they hoped. Literally hundreds of thousands of homes have been broken because of a gambling husband or a gambling wife. Even small amounts spent for the lottery feed the addiction of gambling. Losses in gambling often lead to embezzlement and stealing, and may even lead to murder or suicide. This is the way that sin works. One sin often leads to greater sins, and gambling is no exception.

We need to distinguish between gambling and making decisions.

Inevitably, we will be asked, ‘But isn’t life a gamble? Isn’t insurance a gamble? Isn’t business a gamble? Isn’t the stock market a gamble?’ In life, in insurance, in business, in the stock market, we as Christians apply the principles of God’s Word. We trust Him and place our lives in His hands. We make decisions, but they are based on facts we know or are thoughtfully projected from what we know. In areas where there is uncertainty we take precautions. We don’t run out in front of a speeding truck; we teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street and to wait until it is safe. Most of us, at least, don’t participate in life-threatening ‘extreme’ sports. We wash our hands if we have been near infectious disease. We get a tetanus injection if we have stepped on a rusty nail.

When we buy insurance, we recognise potential weaknesses or dangers. When we go into business, we plan carefully, studying all the principles of manufacturing or merchandising and seeking the counsel of others in similar businesses. And even in the stock market, we study facts about the company that issues the stock and seek the help of a financial adviser.

In business or in stock, we look for reasonable gain; if the company is well run, it is reasonable that we should make a profit. Jesus’ parable of the talents would seem to suggest His approval of sound investment.

Gambling is not based on planning or reasonable development. There is seldom any skill involved. There is no mental or physical development. There is no character built or moral values strengthened. Gambling might seem to be only empty and wasteful, but the Bible shows that it is sin, and makes clear its degrading characteristics.


In closing, turn your thoughts to a place that many people don’t think of when they try to justify their gambling – Calvary. There we see our Lord hanging on the cross; the nails tear at His hands and feet; the crown of thorns is pressed down on His head. His suffering is indescribable, but He is giving His life for His people, that we might be saved and have everlasting life.

Beneath him are the soldiers who crucified Him, the ones who hammered the nails and erected the cross. But what are they doing?

They are gambling for the robe of Christ. Even at the greatest event in the history of the world, gambling was taking place.

Where do we stand? With Christ in His death, or with the soldiers who gambled for His robe?

In all that we do, we should honour our Lord Jesus Christ; we should seek to obey His Word; we should seek to be faithful stewards of all that He has given us; and we should be concerned for the needs of others. Like our Lord, we are to show both by word and deed that ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

The above article is reprinted from the Free Church Witness with permission. It has drawn heavily on an excellent article by Bruce C. Stewart writing in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness (Feb. 2005).

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