What’s Wrong with a Little Gambling?

Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death.

Proverbs 10:2

Many people dream of winning the lottery. In 2016, Americans spent over seventy billion dollars on lotteries alone. Total gambling losses in the United States are estimated at over one hundred forty billion dollars a year.

What does this say about the way that many of us view and pursue money?

Only two things can happen when you gamble, and both are bad. You will probably lose—in which case you have been a bad steward of the resources that God has given you. Gambling is addictive. Those who start out planning to lose only a small amount sometimes become compulsive gamblers and lead themselves to financial ruin. People who try to get out of a financial hole through gambling almost always find themselves in a deeper hole.

The other bad thing that can happen is that you could win—in which case you have acquired ill-gotten gains at the expense of other foolish and naive gamblers. The rare person who succeeds at gambling or wins the lottery hasn’t worked skillfully to produce a valuable product or service that others appreciate. Instead he has taken the money of others without offering them anything of value in return. It may be that he was lucky. But, even if he wins because he is skilled at poker or other gambling games, he is either cheating others or taking advantage of their naiveté.

Some people might say that they don’t risk large sums of money but enjoy spending a few dollars on lottery tickets or in a casino. While many would regard this as their Christian liberty, I think that they should think carefully about their involvement in such activities. Gambling harms society by undermining people’s work ethic, as they hope to gain wealth apart from skillful labor.

Gambling also promotes irrationality. The odds of winning the lottery or a casino jackpot are miniscule. It is often the poor, who can least afford to lose their money, who spend the highest percentage of their income on lotteries and casinos. Gambling is often motivated by greed and may lead to financial ruin. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:9–10 NIV). Gambling that is motivated by an inordinate love of money is usually accompanied by “all kinds of evil”—including drunkenness, drug abuse, and sexual immorality. Solomon tells us that ill- gotten treasures (such as gambling) have no lasting value and can’t prevent a person from death (see Prov. 10:2). It is righteousness that delivers you from death—both the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is of infinite value, and the righteous life that He teaches and enables you to live as you labor for His glory.

  • Reflect: Many people argue for gambling. How would you answer those who say that the lottery is a good thing because its proceeds help public schools without raising taxes? Many would say that gambling a small amount of money is a matter of Christian liberty. If so, how would one decide whether to exercise this freedom (see Rom. 14:23)?
  • Reflect: If part of your financial troubles are due to gambling, recognize the foolishness of gambling and turn from it. Don’t trust in riches or in rich schemes; rather, trust in the Lord.
  • Act: What counsel would you give to a family member or friend who is heavily involved in gambling? If this is you, get accountability from a mature Christian friend or pastor.

[This post is excerpted, with permission, from Jim Newheiser’s new 31-day devotional, MONEY: Seeking God’s Wisdom.]

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