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What does the Bible say about gambling?

Submitted: 2/4/2008
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Question: Are there any verses in the Bible saying not to gamble? I looked up in the Strongs and couldn't find one. Casting lots, but those were stones, and even the disciples did this when adding the 12th disciple in Acts 1:26.

Answer: What does the Bible say about gambling?

The answer to this question is, nothing! Nothing specifically, that is; though it does have much to say concerning certain applicable principles. Before turning to the Scriptures, let’s first define what we are talking about. The dictionary defines “gambling” as: “to take a risk in order to gain some advantage.” The word “gamble” as a noun is defined: “an act or undertaking involving risk of a loss.”

The key element in any form of gambling is risk. Does the Bible condemn putting our possessions at risk? Not necessarily. In fact, David commended the men who placed themselves in peril to obtain some water for him from the well of Bethlehem saying, “For at the risk of their lives they brought it” (1 Chronicles 11:19). Similarly, Paul and Barnabas were commended by the apostles as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). What is a more valuable possession that our lives? Yet these men risked losing their lives for the sake of a cause they believed in.

So putting something of value at risk is not necessarily a bad thing. However, we could also say that risking one’s life in a venture for no real reason, especially when there is a high probability of losing it, is a bad thing. For example, kids walking along a bridge rail in the middle of the night...just for kicks. Or, driving a car at excessive speed just for the thrill. These kinds of risks cannot be justified because they run an extreme risk of loss while at the same time having no substantive payoff.

In determining whether a gamble is biblically acceptable or not, we must evaluate two criteria: 1) What is the degree of risk? and 2) How substantive is the potential payoff? As a general rule, unless you are risking something specifically for the gospel (such as your life), the risk should be low and the potential payoff high. Let me offer an example:

Every year my state government requires me to place a wager of about a thousand dollars on my insurance company’s gaming table in exchange for the privilege of driving my car. The deal is this: if I wreck someone’s car with my car, my insurance company will pay for the repairs. Thus, I win (if the repairs are over a thousand dollars). On the other hand, if I don’t wreck someone’s car, the operator of my insurance company’s gaming table gathers up my cash and deposits it in his company’s bank account. I lose.

How is this any different from playing black jack in Los Vegas? The differences are these: 1) The state requires me to play the insurance game whereas in Los Vegas it’s my choice, 2) If I don’t put my money on the insurance company’s table, I am also at risk. If I wreck someone’s car without insurance, the odds are very high that I will have to pay a whole lot more than a thousand dollars. On the other hand, if I never gamble at the black jack table, I am guaranteed to have lost nothing at all; and 3) In Los Vegas, whether I win or lose is based almost entirely on random chance; whereas with my car, my own care and skillfulness will significantly effect the odds. Considering all these differences, I believe we can justify playing the insurance gamble but not the black jack.

We might do well to consider whether there are really any significant differences between betting on a corporation (buying stocks) verses betting on a horse. For some the odds might be better and the risk of loss lower betting on a horse. So why is buying stock okay and going to the race track not? The fact is, we gamble all the time. When I buy life insurance I am betting that I will die. If I live, I lose the bet and the insurance company keeps the wager. When I buy health insurance I am betting that I will be sick or injured. If I stay healthy, I lose the bet and the insurance company keeps the wager. Is this very much different from betting on a football team, a roll of the dice, a spin of the wheel, or a hand of cards?

Some say that gambling is wrong because the only example in the Bible is the soldiers at the foot of the cross. These men, it is said, gambled for the clothes of Jesus. How depraved! Unfortunately, this incident cannot be used to preach against gambling because the soldiers were not gambling. Gambling always involves risk. The participant must have an ante. He must stand to lose. The Bible says of these soldiers, “They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be’” (John 19:24). This is roughly the equivalent of drawing straws. It is simply a method of making a random selection. The apostles used this same method
to select a replacement for Judas. After qualifying two candidates, the Bible says, “And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias” (Acts 1:26). Certainly these godly men were not gambling.

Actually they were using a very godly method for making a choice. The Bible tells us that this method was used by Aaron to determine which goat would be the sacrifice and which would be the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8). The Bible explains, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). Apparently making a random selection by casting lots is one of the ways God reveals His choice. This can hardly be construed as unbiblical gambling. Once again, in the casting of lots, nothing is put at risk. It is simply a method of making a random selection.