Is gambling wrong in itself, or is the problem gambling addiction?
I suspect that most ethicists would argue that it is pathological gambling that is ethically wrong. Many Christians, including Adventists, consider gambling to be in open conflict with Christian values, and consequently they reject it. Allow me to describe the problem, consider the biblical principles for its rejection, and add a pastoral appeal.
1. THE COST OF GAMBLING
Gambling is commonly defined as the attempt to win money by betting money or playing games whose outcome is determined by chance (e.g., horse races, casino games, lotteries, raffles). In many parts of the world gambling has reached epidemic proportions. The problem has been exacerbated by online gambling, which allows individuals to risk their limited financial resources gambling from the privacy of their homes.
Unfortunately, gambling has the support of large segments of the population and is legally protected and promoted. Compulsive or pathological gambling results in financial problems for the individual and for family members, and quite often brings with it physical and verbal abuse in the family. It is also accompanied by depression and has a profound negative impact on the mental and physical health of the individual, sometimes resulting in suicide. Among many other social problems, gambling increases crimes. It has been calculated that North America invests annually about $50 billion a year to deal with the negative social impact of gambling.* The high risk of becoming addicted to gambling should be enough for Christians to avoid this epidemic at all cost.
2. GAMBLING AND CHRISTIAN VALUES
The Bible does not contain a law against gambling, but it does provide values and principles that can be used to evaluate the practice. First, gambling is grounded in selfishness and greed, both used to motivate individuals to gamble. Feeding selfishness goes against the Christian gospel, with its stress on sacrificial love (1 John 4:7-9). The attempt to increase our wealth at the expense of others is not an expression of Christian love (Matt. 7:12). Second, placing our hope on chance is a rejection of God’s providential care for us, who in His love guides us always (Matt. 6:25-31). We should seek to increase our faith in the Lord by not relying on chance. Third, biblical stewardship rejects gambling by reminding us that all we have belongs to the Lord and that we should use it to glorify Him (Ps. 24:1; 50:9-12; 2 Cor. 8:19, 20). God gives us strength to earn a living through honest work and thus He provides for our needs, for the mission of the church, and for the benefit of others (Eph. 4:28; 2 Cor. 9:10, 11; 1 Tim. 6:17). The biblical call to Christian generosity should rule out raffles that are often promoted as intending to achieve something good.
3. RELAYING ON THE LORD
We often experience difficulties that require financial resources to address them. Gambling could tempt us to find what would appear to be a simple solution to our needs, but it is an enslaving and devastating idol. The biblical call is to always trust in the Lord, even in the midst of our most severe trials. Resisting this demonic invention requires that we strengthen our relationship with the Lord through prayer and the study of the Bible.
The best antigambling measure is never to start gambling. If by any chance you are a compulsive gambler, you may need professional help together with faith in the Lord to overcome this damaging addiction. The Lord, who gave His life for you, can make you victorious.
* Earl L. Grinlos, Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 177. The number is most probably higher now.