Thinking practically and biblically about gambling
Gambling is a fascinating phenomenon. Curiosity concerning the subject caused me to elect a module at university entitled ‘The Sociology of Gambling’. This included looking at demographics and people groups especially prone to gamble as well as a field trip to a casino and a panel of four gambling addicts all conveying the same message; neither to start wagering nor get hooked on it.
Four factors especially caught my attention. One was the absence of clocks on the walls in the casino and the provision of sustenance to increase and sustain the duration of time for which individuals would continue. Everything was calculated. I was aware the odds were carefully checked and the tiny minority of persons who are too successful are monitored closely.
The second point emerged from the panel who spoke of their gambling experiences and addictions. One mentioned that if they had no money to gamble with, they would commence betting with their respective assets. That immediately broadened my horizons regarding the consuming nature of the desire to gamble. The third factor was the rush and excitement of winning and outsmarting opponents and holding one’s nerve.
The final point was the entrapment of gambling addiction. A week or so later after the foursome visited our campus, our lecturer informed us that one of them had lost over £20k. I knew that would cause all manner of wider interpersonal problems for a long time and it wouldn’t surprise me if that person attempted to gamble ‘with what they didn’t have’ to make up that loss and end up in an even worse situation.
Closer to home I remember an individual with a successful business whom I knew for many years had similar problems, not only financially but also there was massive damage in relation to family relations. Even from a young age it was apparent that it was entirely avoidable and equally tragic.
Finally my friends and I went on a fortnight trip to the States and we spent an afternoon in Las Vegas exploring the sights. It was a hive of activity in stark contrast to the barren Nevada desert and akin to Disneyland for grown- ups. No money was spent on trying to make a fortune during our holiday. I remember soberly people watching and silently brainstorming what hard earnt money could be used for instead of being squandered and the predictable disappointment which would follow for many.
In addition to considering gambling biblically, my other reservation was logic will not allow me to do this since I might as well shoot myself in the foot. The whole business is designed to make a profit and so the odds are carefully fixed in the realms of calculated probability. I was tempted on one occasion however, when I entered a perfectly legitimate competition to guess the winners of athletics medallists with no losses incurred to entrants, but the highest score would win the prize, which I think was free tickets to an event overseas. I checked my answers and realised I had done particularly well on that occasion and I indulged in the fantasy that if I spread my efforts across a range of athletes in a betting shop then I just might do well at this and there could be some mileage in it. I tried to justify to myself, that my skill and knowledge somehow entitled me to do this, but I was of course thinking carnally and not biblically!
Today the problem is further confounded by the plethora of online games available which are accompanied by a bombardment of advertising to make it appear either a privileged, glamorous, courageous or even sagacious activity. One recent advert I saw compared ‘fortune favours the brave’ with an image of a lion’s mane making the activity appear a somewhat noble pursuit. Gambling affects people from all walks of life. It is ironic that the idea of ‘you have to be in it to win it’ is probably the very thing needed to be avoided to prevent current problems from becoming multiplied. The idea that a substantial amount is given to charity doesn’t decry from the fact that whilst that happens, countless lives of gamblers and their friends and loved ones are destroyed with innumerable woes. Some speak of responsible gambling which is a cleverly disguised oxymoron and counselling given by the benefactors is a small drop in the inexhaustibly vast ocean.
Thinking biblically about gambling
Greed and the desire to obtain wealth instantly, causes not only financial problems, but sometimes family breakdowns and harm towards others, to fund the addictions plus wider societal issues and complications. It is also in opposition to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from their faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10)”. Where our treasure is there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
In legitimate business, it is possible and desirable to benefit both or more parties. When an individual makes a gain from gambling, it is inevitable that this will often simultaneously occur at another’s expense. This is not loving one’s neighbour as one’s self.
Whilst it is difficult to obtain a text or verse prohibiting the specific act of gambling, the principles of gambling are clearly antagonistic towards a godly lifestyle. Proverbs 13:11 states ‘Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labour will increase.’ Proverbs is ‘wisdom literature’ and this is an excellent guiding general principle with the idea to work hard for a living rather than to attempt short cuts involving unnecessary degree of chance or risk which could be disastrous for us or others and which certainly isn’t pleasing to God. As believers it is good to make a living through honest labour and effort (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Gambling is basically a form of covetous desire. Not only is this violating the tenth commandment, but our conduct should be without covetousness and we should be content with having the Lord with us (Hebrews 13:5) since our greatest need and joy is in Him.
The ultimate gamble and the wise investment
We make many careful and considered decisions throughout the duration of our lives. We plan which courses we will take to hopefully pursue a career. We ponder where we would like to live with the options available to us. We think concerning what sort of people we would want to spend our time with. We plan for our retirement with a pension investment. We even plan our funerals and what should be done with our assets when we leave this world. The ultimate gamble is to fail to plan for eternity since after all what good is it, if someone gains the whole world yet loses their soul? God’s sovereignty and providence outweighs any temporal short cuts for passing pleasures through dishonest gain. If we hold fast to the eternal perspective and we trust in the Lord, we will have no need to gamble and will have every assurance and blessing in Jesus our Messiah; not only for this life but for the rest of eternity.