Is Gambling a Sin?

Today I was getting a haircut, and I got to talking about gambling with one of the guys in the barbershop, someone from another LC-MS church. He basically asked if it was sinful to gamble, even if one was just going to the Casino for some mild entertainment. My initial response (while sitting in the barber chair) was essentially that it was the wrong question to ask. The Bible does not, to my knowledge, come right out and say that gambling is a sin. The question that I gave him to ponder was this: How is this helping and serving my neighbor in love?

Maybe it’s one of those, “If it is a sin to you, then you should not go against your own conscience.” But there is more to this than just, “Is gambling a sin?” I was trying to analyze this as I was running errands later on today, and began running through the Decalogue and Luther’s meanings. So, here are some thoughts that I came up with in regard to the Ten Commandments:

1. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The whole point of gambling (whether by poker, slot machines, or Blackjack) is to gain for oneself more money. Is that “honest gain”?

2. Wastefulness – Could gambling be considered a form of wasteful spending? Is this proper Christians stewardship? Did God entrust to us the “unrighteous mammon” in order that we could simply throw it away into slot machines, etc? Is our money being used to serve any useful purpose? The Catechism teaches us to ask ourselves in self-examination: “Have I wasted anything?”

3. Stealing: If I am in a game of poker, and I win the “pot,” am I helping my neighbor to improve and protect his property and income? Gambling is not forbidden in so many words in the Bible, but according to the Catechism, part of keeping the seventh Commandment is helping my neighbor to protect his property and income. Taking it without giving anything in exchange seems to violate this, unless my neighbor across the table tells me that I should just consider it a gift. But what if he can’t afford that kind of gift?

4. The argument is often given that gambling is just another form of entertainment, like going to the movie or going to a restaurant. As long as no harm is being done to the neighbor, it is believed, then there is no sin in this kind of entertainment. To watch some movies, I would admit, would be harming the neighbor, particularly if the neighbor on the screen is exposing herself or himself for me to see. But in general, a movie is a means of entertainment, and entertainment in and of itself is not sinful. In fact, I’m sure Gene Veith would say that by going to the movie, I am helping and serving my neighbor, whose work is providing him or her with a needed income.

The question is, when I go to a movie, am I taking something from my neighbor? I suppose some would say that I am wasting money by going to the movie. But as long as I can afford it, there shouldn’t be a problem, right? Lots and lots of questions and issues to consider, more so than just “Is gambling a sin?”

I know our Synod has put out reports on gambling before, and I’ve read parts of them. But it is a serious question. Must everything we do be for the sole purpose of helping and serving our neighbor? Is it wasteful to spend money on mere entertainment? Obviously (or not so obviously) I’m not seeking my righteousness in this. True righteousness is of faith in the crucified and risen Lord, apart from works. Has anyone a better answer than what I’ve given, or attempted to give? I don’t like to call something a sin that is not truly sinful. As I said above, perhaps it is one of those conscience things. If it is a sin to you, then you should not do it if it is going to go against your conscience. Since it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him then perhaps the best answer is that “it depends.” What is your attitude towards what you are doing? Must you do it to be content and happy? Are you sinfully coveting what is not yours? Are you scheming to get your neighbor’s inheritance or house?

There’s a lot to ponder in this question. Maybe I should pose it over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds for a pastoral discussion.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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8 Responses to Is Gambling a Sin?

  1. Dave Speers says:

    gambling is by nature covetous. how can it not be? I am trying, scheming, planning to get my neighbors stuff.

  2. Kathy says:

    Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.

  3. Exothermic says:

    Well, to go along with the 2nd commandment comment above… an old saying states that “gambling is an additional tax on the stupid”. Often referring to purchase of lottery tickets, but can be applied elsewhere.

  4. Lawrence says:

    Easy answer for me. It is sin, in that we’re placing our hope of winning on fate, on chance. Placing our faith in a roll of the dice, or the turn of a friendly card, isn’t scriptural.

    This is not the same think as watching a sporting event, unless we’re betting on the event. The money we pay is a fee for services rendered. The services we receive in the case of a sporting event are in the form of entertainment. And while we might be rooting for one side or the other, we’re not gambling anything on the outcome of the event.

  5. DP says:

    This is an interesting post, and I would be curious to how you could respond to my objections. First and foremost, and a struggle I have with moral imperatives, is that any action that you partake in, whether it be getting your haircut, watching tv, washing your car etc.. is not helping your neighbor. Therefore if by gambling the standard is, is it helping my neighbor, then a christian would not only be hypocritical but wrong. Also, when a man sits down at a poker table to play, he has entered into a contract that the money he puts on the table is no longer a claim on his money if he doesn’t win the game. If a bowl of fruit is layed out on the table at a party, and I am going to the party, knowing that I am going to eat some of the food, it is no different than men who lay their moneys out on the table knowing that they might derive monetary satisfaction from the game or not. Hence if monetary satisfaction is a sin, then we should never ever buy anything using monetary means for ourselves. The harm argument is unrealistic also. If I enter into a contract knowing I am getting a good deal, am I sinning? No. Two mutual consenting adults make a contract, both benefit, whether you think so or not. Value is subjective. Hence he values the money I will give him more than the property, and I value the property more than the money. I think this is where the extremes of the church bother me. .

  6. Don Siedednburg says:

    A commendment says you should not covet your neighbor’s possessions. Since all forms of gambling involves seeking someone else’s possession, therefore, all forms of gambling is a sin. Have you noticed the excuses for coveting your neighbor’s possessions by gambling given by the various religions who should know better. Maybe the reason a rich man cannot get into heaven is because he must covet his neighbor’s possessions to become rich.

  7. DP_Thinker says:

    I think you are missing the point, and misusing the word covet. Do you mean to suggest that a market transaction in which I buy food from a store is immoral? That is what you are suggesting. Whether a neighbor puts his possessions, money (which is not a possession but a medium of exchange) on a poker table for entertainment, or for a grocery store for food, he is doing it voluntarily. In an exchange, participants give up something they value less for something they value more. If gambling is entertainment, they value the entertainment more than the money. If they value food more than money, the same applies. Is the grocer coveting his neighbors possessions by providing him with his desire? Absolutely not. In the same way a gambler values something more than the money he holds. It is not being coveted, it is being given up freely by the individual.

  8. tsunamis says:

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.

    A great read. I will certainly be back.

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