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FIRST-PERSON: Gambling — Don’t bet your life

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Why have places like Las Vegas become such popular “vacation” destinations — even among Christians? And why have so many Christians bought into the notion that gambling is nothing more than harmless entertainment? Just what is gambling and why do people gamble?

A report by the Employee Assistance Program at the University of Texas at Austin indicated that approximately $14 billion per year worth of productivity is lost by business and industry through absenteeism, wasted time, poor work performance, loss of income, criminal acts such as theft, accident, rehabilitation and recovery and medical treatment due to gambling and gambling-related problems.

In addition to this — and unseen to most — at least a quarter or maybe more of all family disruptions, neglected or abused children, divorces, impoverishment, mental breakdowns and suicides can be traced back to the negative effects of gambling.

In the strictest sense, gambling is a method by which a person thinks he or she can get rich quick without having to earn the wealth by labor. Solomon said, “There is profit in all hard work, but endless talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).

Attaining wealth by working is scriptural, but attaining wealth by enticing someone to gain money at the certain loss of another violates every principle taught by Jesus. In short, gambling is deceptive and sinful. It promotes and breeds selfishness, greed and covetousness.

Regardless of how socially acceptable the practice of gambling has become, it is still preying on the weaknesses of others, and this is contrary to the instruction of Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15.

Why gamble?

Many people gamble because they feel they have needs that cannot be met through earned income. Gambling to them is their “opportunity” to acquire material wealth and comforts.

Another group gambles just for the fun of it; they call themselves social gamblers.

A third group entails compulsive gamblers. For them, gambling is a disease that wrecks their finances, families and careers.

At first glance, each group appears to have a different motive for gambling but, in reality, they all have the same motive: gaining materialism without labor (Proverbs 14:23) — the ultimate in get-rich-quick schemes.

Is gambling wrong?

The following may help you as a Christian evaluate whether gambling is an activity with which you should be involved, because gambling:

— Often is connected with other vices, such as prostitution and drugs.

— Is always associated with get-rich-quick motives (see Proverbs 28:22).

— Discourages work (see Genesis 3:19).

— Often will offend a brother or sister in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 8:11-12).

— Manifests a heart of greed and love of money, which Scripture says is the root of all evil. “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).

State lotteries operate legally in more than 40 states, and several more have voted to join the crowd. Many Christian leaders feel that lotteries are a form of gambling, although some Christians do not agree.

Yet, if the above principles for evaluating gambling are considered, state lotteries are, most definitely, gambling.


Citizens of one state spend an average of $1.5 billion annually on lottery tickets. They could have spent that money in local businesses, placed it in investment vehicles or deposited it in savings.

Ironically, much of those billions of dollars go right into that state’s coffers, making the state the big winner. States generally claim from 35 to 45 percent of the money raised by lotteries.

Administration and promotion takes another 10 to 20 percent, leaving less than half of the money collected to be paid to winners.

According to the Grocers Association of one of the largest states, 66 percent of the food stores that sell lottery tickets reported a decline in food sales after they began to sell tickets. It is estimated that since 1990 more than half of that state’s lottery ticket sales came from customers whose income is near or below the recognized poverty level.

The poor tend to be the greater victims of the lottery simply by virtue of the fact that they have smaller incomes.

Dr. J. Emmett Henderson of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s office of ethics and public affairs, says, “For the poor, lottery is not harmless entertainment. It is a desperate but vain attempt to survive. But the odds of winning are so cruel — roughly 13 million to one is typical for state lotteries throughout America — that lottery turns out to be theft by consent. Almost all players lose money.”

Jesus said all the commandments can be summed up in the first and greatest commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind) and in the second commandment (love your neighbor as yourself).

The following questions must be asked. Would Jesus participate in this game of chance? Would He bet money on His chances of winning? Would His Father be pleased with Jesus’ decision to bet? Would His involvement cause the other participants to accept Him as their perfect example? While these questions might appear ludicrous, the way a Christian answers these questions should determine his or her course of action.

Someone has said that Christians are the only Christ that many non-Christians will ever see. Remember that, more often than not, our actions and our decisions will bear testimony of what should be the true nature of Christ. “I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced” (1 Samuel 2:30).
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries led by Dayton merged with Christian Financial Concepts led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries. Scripture quotations in this column are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

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  • Howard Dayton