The Gambling Question…

I recently read Prof argues against expanded gambling in the BPNews. Hershael York, a professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary argued against Kentucky’s proposal for “expanded gambling.” York purports that gambling is sin, plain and simple.

After being saved I was told that gambling was a sin. Why? For many reasons, some of which York claims, such as, it breaks up families, it is greed, it is like stealing from your neighbor, etc. At the time my buddies and I got together every Friday night to play Texas Hold’em. It was a favorite of ours, we would all come to the table, put ten dollars down for poker chips and use the pot to pay for pizza. Usually the last one standing got the rest of the dough (the money, not the pizza).

One of my closest friends was pretty upset about me stopping. He posed an excellent question to me. He asked, “What is the difference between spending 10$ on a movie and 10$ playing cards.” It was a good question to ask in the face of my “stewardship” defense. My backup defense was that I was putting my money up to “chance.” My pastor at the time told me that he use to gamble in Seminary but it wasn’t for money, because of the stewardship issue, it was for toothpicks or some other “no value” item.

As I started to ask myself the “Why?” questions and I looked to Scripture for answers, I came up empty handed.

I realized that the “chance” argument was completely flawed. How could I, who claims that God is sovereign over everything believe in chance? Of course I don’t and didn’t. So then, what do I say about the good stewardship thing? My friend had a point – so if I stop gambling because of stewardship, then I should stop having pizza night. If stewardship was really the issue, then we should all probably go to drinking river water and eating locusts.

What about the other issues?

Does gambling break up families? No. This is called shifting the blame. It would be like saying cabbage breaks up families or space breaks up families. Gambling doesn’t break anything up, people who abuse their family relationships break up families. If you take away gambling it will be with TV, or Computers, or Trading Cards, or Metal Detecting that ‘breaks up families.’

Are you greedy? Perhaps. The problem here is the old chicken and the egg issue. Are you greedy because you gamble or do you gamble because you are greedy? I think the latter. If I am correct, then taking away gambling does not stop the sin (greed).

Are you really stealing from your neighbor? No. A thief takes something from someone when he does not know and when he is not suspecting. When you are at a table playing poker with other players, you are all in a contract with one another. You have agreed to pay the other person if they do a better job than you. When you are at the slots, you are in a contract with the casino. You have agreed to pay the casino for the sake of entertainment or for the opportunity of getting a larger return than “invested.”

So what is wrong with gambling? In my estimation, nothing. The problems York and others have listed stem from the heart, not from the game. Only Jesus can fix the heart. I think we should spend more of our energy helping others with their heart problems and less time worrying about these distractions.

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  1. I agree, Lew. This is the typical approach that we tend to take with heart issues. Deal with the symptom and not the problem.

    I have made this same point with regard to the prohibitions against alcohol. Scripture does not forbid the partaking of alcohol. In fact, in some cases, it downright endorses it! But it forbids drunkenness.

    Drunkenness, like gambling addiction, comes from a heart issue. But rather than deal with those heart issues, we just tell people they can’t partake at all. That is, in my estimation, quite misguided.

    Sadly, I am coming to the conclusion that many believe “control” of people’s behavior is preferable over true discipleship.

    Well-written post, my friend.

  2. Lew,

    Great post! I read your blog often but haven’t yet commented directly to you(besides Alan’s blog). This is Jeff from Montana.

    I grew up on a 1000 acre farm here in Montana. My dad planted wheat and barley. This was the only income we had. He was risking everything we had every time he planted his fields. Drought, hail, fire, bugs, etc. all could wipe out his crops entirely. This, to me, seems like a huge gamble.(risking money on the outcome of something involving chance) Or maybe he did it in faith that God would provide for us.(The substance of things hoped for with the evidence of things not seen)

    Basically, everyone who invests in anything, including people, is taking a gamble. Maybe the people who are against gambling are drawing a line and only against it when it is done for entertainment?

    I wonder what some of these churches would do if one of it’s members won a multi-million dollar lottery? To tithe or not to tithe?

    I agree with you that it is a heart issue.


  3. Steve

    We definitely agree in the alcohol debate… and it is no surprise to me that we agree here too. I think we probably agree on many of these “issues.”

    I wonder if this is a stamp of American Christianity, or if this is something witnessed world-wide. It seems like a lot of Christian here in the states spend a lot of time, money, and energy, trying to get lost people to act like Christians – instead of spending their time, money, and energy, trying to share abundant lives with lost people.

    Thanks for the comment.


    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I guess you could say “long time reader, first time commenter.” (that is probably only mildly funny to you if you listen to a lot of talk radio).

    My wife would love to live on a 1000 acre farm. Her grandfather had 300 acres in Georgia, 50 of which is unofficially ours. We hope to move out there sometime and enjoy the land.

    You’re right, we do a lot of “gambling” in life. Your example is one of the better, more extreme, examples. You could argue that we take a gamble when we leave the house, drive in a car, fly in a plane, walk across the street, etc.

    If they want to argue the entertainment side, then one could say that people take a gamble spending money to see a movie that they may or may not like.

    Your lottery question is a common one. I think Dr. Patterson would take a tenth of it – I have heard that he has said something like “The Devil has had that money too long” in the past regarding similar “questionable” situations.

    Thanks again for stopping by and commenting.

    I hope you all have a good day.

    God’s Glory,

  4. I’m sure you’re not surprised, but I agree with you. Occasionally I like to play poker with my family. We don’t even play for big money, just nickels and dimes, but I’m always afraid to tell people about it. I don’t want them to think less of me. Anyway, good post.

  5. Lew,

    More good thinking! Problem is that for many decades ‘churchianity’ has confused the religion of Moralism for being born again. So, I agree with yours and Steve’s reasoning.

    There is a need for thoughtful consideration of what effect we can have on others, especially those we seek to reach. Our freedom can be set an example through which others enter bondage.

    Love for others means that we will deny ourselves some of the freedoms we have, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of others.

    Even though free to follow some course of action, love for others, and godly wisdom often says otherwise.

  6. Drew

    When I stopped playing, my buddies and I would usually put 10 dollars in and get 100 chips. That works out to be .10$ per chip.

    Sometimes, when the night couldn’t be too long, we’d do 40 chips, or about .25$ per chip. Those were some fun nights, I miss them.

    I totally understand your fear. I urge you to use your understanding to look beyond what they think of you and to help them out of their bondage.


    You’re right, I wonder when this moralism started? Is it recent, or has it been happening since Catholicism took hold? I do not know that much about Church history to know.

    You’re absolutely right about our love for others. It should come first, before any of these things (Alcohol, Gambling, etc.). What is great about being free, is that we have the freedom to deny ourselves for the sake of others. I think that we also have the responsibility to disciple those are afraid of this freedom.

    Thanks for commenting.

    God’s Glory,

  7. Oh my goodness … what a great post! I have actually been thinking about the gambling issue for a little while here trying to figure out where the Bible says “Thou shalt not …”. You have hit the nail on the head … again. I like ellipses, can you tell? ;)

    Just wanted to reiterate what Steve and Aussie john said:

    Drunkenness, like gambling addiction, comes from a heart issue. But rather than deal with those heart issues, we just tell people they can’t partake at all. That is, in my estimation, quite misguided.


    Problem is that for many decades ‘churchianity’ has confused the religion of Moralism for being born again

    And a great thought/question, Jeff: Basically, everyone who invests in anything, including people, is taking a gamble. Maybe the people who are against gambling are drawing a line and only against it when it is done for entertainment? … just as an example, since we’re talking about money, look at today’s ride on the stock market … now if that’s not a gamble, I don’t know what is!

    Thanks for this excellent post :)


  8. Heather,

    I’m glad to have offered such a timely post :). I think the closest thing you will find in Scripture regarding gambling is casting lots. In fact, many people use the casting lots to support their anti-gambling agenda. They will go so far as to say that the Eleven were wrong for casting lots to find a second “Twelfth.”

    It is funny though, God commands Aaron to cast lots in Leviticus 16:8. This was to determine which of two goats would be used for the Lord and which would be used as a scapegoat.

    I think you may find the “lots” arguments to be lacking.

    Thanks for commenting.

    God’s Glory,

  9. Lew,

    I wasn’t sure if I agreed with you or not, so I rolled a die.

    Seriously… Great post! I love the way you stopped through the argument. You are absolutely correct that this is a heart issue. This is another one of those times where it is easier to ban something than to deal with a possible sin issue.


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