Friday, May 18, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 1 - Introduction

**This series originated as part of my studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**


In Christendom, whenever discussions of so-called hot button social issues arise, gambling is usually among the topics. In 1964, New Hampshire became the first state since the Civil War era to operate a lottery renewing a debate that continues to this day.[1] The now familiar reasoning behind New Hampshire’s decision is the desire to raise state revenues without imposing unpopular taxes. Today, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have also instituted state-run lotteries in the name of raising state revenues for such worthy causes as education and supporting women and children. It has been suggested by McGowan that the lottery era is drawing to a close and new, expanded era in the gambling industry is about to commence.[2]

As is true with other social issues such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, it comes as no surprise that opinions on the permissibility of gambling among Christians vary depending on who is answering the question. Is it permissible to smoke cigarettes? What about cigars only? Is a glass of wine permissible with dinner on occasion? While refraining from actually gambling personally, may a Christian watch others gamble? Though there is certainly a variety of opinion on the topic of gambling, those opinions are easily and simply categorized.

There are essentially two views within Christendom when considering whether or not gambling is a sin. Of course, there are ancillary issues that may be of interest but for the purpose of this monograph two broad categories will be used. Before identifying those views, it is appropriate to accurately define what is considered gambling and what is not. Gambling is defined as an activity where two or more parties place at risk something of value, known as the stakes, in the hope of winning something of greater value, known as the prize, where who wins and who loses depends on the outcome of events that are unknown to the participants at the time of the bet, known as the result.[3] All of these criteria must be met in order for an activity to be considered gambling. If this definition seems broad this is because it is. Gambling is not limited to commercial gaming such as that found in Las Vegas or state-run lotteries. Defining gambling does not require the activity involve high stakes. Whether or not gambling is sinful requires argument and should not be a matter of definition.

The first view states that there is nothing inherently wrong with gambling. Rather, the problem arises when one gambles to excess. Historical arguments from some actually support gambling and include the character-building aspect of gambling where showing gentlemanly demeanor whether winning or losing is a virtue and offering the common man an opportunity to develop such skills is a benefit to both the man and to society.[4]

The second view is one in which gambling is thought to always be wrong as it is an activity that encourages greed in place of goodness and attempts to obtain something for nothing at the expense of our neighbor. Two of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” have a direct bearing on gambling.[5] If we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it is difficult to see how we can do so while taking advantage of our neighbor though gambling.

After analyzing both sides of the argument, this monograph will demonstrate that the correct view for the Christian to hold is one where gambling is always wrong. This conclusion is reached after a thorough review of the man-made arguments in support of gambling and carefully studying what the Scriptures have to say on the topic.

[1] McGowan, Richard A. The Gambling Debate. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), xiii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Collins, Peter. Gambling and the Public Interest. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 15.

[4] Oxford, Jim. An Unsafe Bet? : The Dangerous Rise of Gambling and the Debate We Should be Having. (Birmingham, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 134-35.

[5] Petersen, William J. What You Should Know About Gambling. (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1973), 86.

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