IS IT WORTH THE GAMBLE?
(From the "Good News" 1986)
by Jon Kurnik
This article could well be one of the most controversial we
have ever published. It lays out, in plain language, what the
Bible says about gambling!
Forty million dollars! That's how much Chicago printer
Michael Wittkowski, 28, won two years ago in the Illinois
lottery, making him the largest single winner in lottery history.
Twenty-one factory workers, along with two other people, shared a
$41-million jackpot in New York's lottery last year, the largest
pot in North American history.
(Remember this study was written in 1986 - Keith Hunt)
California is regularly crowning new millionaires in the
United States' largest lottery. Barely a year old, the California
contest produced revenues of nearly a quarter of a billion
dollars in just its first month of operation.
In all, more than a score of states plus the District of Columbia
have set up lotteries to produce funds for public services.
Earlier this year, two welfare recipients shared a ticket worth
$7.6 million in Quebec's "6-49" lottery. Two years ago, an
Ontario couple claimed Canada's largest lottery pot of $13
Worldwide, lottery-style gambling also flourishes. In
Australia it's "Tattslotto," to the tune of $1.7 million a week.
The Panamanians have their "Loteria Popular" and in Poland it's
the weekly "Duzy-Loteh" ("Great Lotto").
The amount of money spent worldwide each year on all forms
of gambling - legal and illegal - is impossible to calculate. But
even figures on legalized gambling are astounding. The Public
Gambling Research Institute estimates legal gambling in the
United States amounted to $24 billion (or about $100 for every
American) in 1982!
Legal gambling comes in many forms: casinos, bingo games,
office pools, lotteries, horse racing, jai alai. On lotteries
alone, Candians spent $60 a person, Britons $200 per person and
the Japanese $225 a person in 1983.
One authority estimates that U.S. professional gambling
interests pick up $50 billion a year, and that the amount for all
legal and illegal gambling in the United States each year ranges
from $500 billion to nearly double that figure.
(Well figure what it is today in 2008 as I enter this study ...
blows your mind - we just do not hear the amount spent on
gambling today - it's a rocket-ship heading for Mars - Keith
In a 1982 Gallup poll conducted in the United States, some
60 percent of adults polled reported indulging in some form of
gambling themselves, and 80 percent of all polled endorsed legal
gambling. No wonder, then, that even government-sponsored
gambling is skyrocketing.
An insidious lure
Who among us hasn't at one time or another dreamed of
"striking it rich" in some game or contest? How wonderful it
would be, we think, to win a pile of money. All our worries would
be solved, wouldn't they?
But what does God say about gambling? Since gambling has
such an effect on the world today, surely the Bible makes some
comment on the subject.
With so many societies today in economic decay, the
stability of one's income is increasingly uncertain. Massive
unemployment in many industrialized nations has led some to seek
a onetime solution to their monetary woes. The answer? Instant
wealth in a jackpot!
This lure exposes a strange impulse of human nature. As
Arthur Shafer, philosophy professor at the University of
Manitoba, observed: "The whole impulse to improve one's life
through gambling is dubious. It is a kind of magical thinking."
This innate desire can obsess people to seek huge benefits that
require minimal effort. Joseph Dunn, director of the National
Council on Compulsive Gambling, stated: "People who are worried
about the factory closing take a chance on making it big. Once
they win anything, they're hooked."
It is estimated that between seven million and 10 million
people in the United States alone are compulsive gamblers,
rivaling the scourge of alcoholism.
We hear so many stories of ordinary people striking it rich
that we may think our odds of winning are pretty good. But the
odds of losing, especially in certain types of gambling, are
astronomical. Three tickets won a huge payout in New York's
"Lotto" game, for example, but there were 72 million losers!
And polls show that the majority of the "ordinary people" who
play lotteries, especially, are the poor and less educated -
those who can least afford to spend their money this way.
A Maryland study found that the poorest one third of state
households bought half of all weekly lottery tickets and 60
percent of daily game tickets.
Said one gambler: "If people put the same $4 or $5 they
spend each day on the lottery in a drawer for a year and realized
how much they'd spent, they'd blow their brains out."
Motive is the key
One woman stated: "I'm not going to bet all my money away or
anything like that. All I do is use some money playing bingo once
a week. Surely there's nothing wrong with that."
Statistically, the odds are she will not become a gambling
addict. Even if you approve of gambling, most of you reading this
article are not addicts, either. But even minimal amounts of
wagering in whatever form carry with them the big question of
motive. Gambling by definition is the act or practice of
betting, the act of playing a game and consciously risking money
or other stakes on its outcome. As a game, it involves little or
no effort; rather, chance and "luck" become the controlling
The lure of effortless, fast profit is just another
manifestation of the get way of life.
The basic problem behind gambling is the idea of acquiring
some material gain at the expense of someone else. With this in
mind, we would all do well to consider our attitude in
participating in even contests such as raffles, drawings used to
promote magazine subscription sales and television game shows.
This is not to condemn these activities, but the attitude is what
Proper business practices do involve a profit return, but
not because of someone else's loss. Rather, both sides should
gain by the transaction. Likewise, the principle of insurance
coverage promotes the sharing of expenses to cover accidental
losses - again, the give principle.
A simple test is to honestly evaluate whether your motive is
one of get for self or to give and share with others.
What God says
God's Word is filled with advice on handling questions of
all types, including this one. We are to use wisdom in applying
the Bible's principles, based on God's law.
Proverbs 28:20 tells us, "A faithful man will abound with
blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished."
Verse 22 adds that the attitude of greed will end up producing
How many times in the chronicles of human history have
people reaped destitution while gambling for that elusive pot of
The apostle Paul was inspired to write to Timothy a warning
that many fail to heed: "For the love of money is a root of all
kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in
their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many
sorrows" (I Timothy 6:10).
So is being wealthy sinful, then? Absolutely not. Some of
God's chosen servants, Abraham and Job among them, were
fabulously wealthy. The apostle John even wished the blessing of
prosperity on God's people (3 John 2). But godly character must
be used to properly gain and control money.
That is why the principle behind gambling is ungodly. The
very motive of get for self destroys or prevents the building of
God's own nature of give into our minds.
There is no risk involved in the give way of life. A certain
businessman built his automotive shop on this very principle,
without even knowing that it was biblical. By trying to do a
little extra for his customers, he succeeded where competitors,
out for profit alone, failed. The business is still flourishing
after 30 years.
Jesus taught that the give way produces sure returns: "Give,
and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken
together, and running over will be put into your bosom" (Luke
6:38). If we seek and live by the principles of God's way of
life, all physical necessities will be provided for us (Matthew
In the area of entertainment, there are so many areas to
consider that we must apply one overall principle: Simply, will
the money spent produce a predetermined return, or is there only
a chance of some return?
Skill-testing games or contests that improve your skills or
talents in some worthwhile area give a predetermined, measurable
return. Paying a game fee with merely the chance of winning a
physical or monetary prize is gambling.
The principle of risking loss also applies to the 1,001
varieties of sweepstakes, draws and contests sponsored by
business and media. Again, if nothing is wagered, nothing can be
lost. Dropping your name into a box for a store draw involves no
risk of money or stakes on its outcome. All customers have
already collectively paid for whatever prizes are awarded. It is
used as a bonus incentive to draw more customers into the store.
One subtle way that gambling is promoted is through the
diversion of some of the intake to so-called "worthy causes."
Lotteries and raffles are the most common promoters of this
scheme. Many charities and service groups have been receiving
vast sums of money through government lotteries that advertise
the fact. This is seen by many as justification for gambling. But
let's consider two factors often overlooked.
First, a certain percentage of the money collected never
reaches the charitable causes at all. Promoters, ticket sellers
and winners all may legally take their share before the remainder
is allocated. Giving to charitable causes is fine as long as it
is purely that - giving with no strings attached. The Bible is
profuse with reminders not to neglect those who are needy and
destitute (Matthew 25:34-40, 1 John 3:17-18). Example also
clearly teaches that such concern is far more effective on a
On the other hand, a primary selling point governments use
to promote lotteries is that a percentage of the proceeds from
ticket sales will go to worthy public causes. But they fail to
emphasize that this doesn't mean the money will be added to
existing budgets, but will reduce the amount the government has
to allocate from its overall budget to the particular area. So
the budget for, say, education, remains virtually the same as
before the lottery was introduced.
Second, the motive for giving must be seriously considered.
Worthy causes have been with us for a long time.
But interestingly, with the addition of lotteries in North
America, for example, the public has become so much more
Yet David Hanson, director of marketing for the New York
state lottery, observed that charitable urges are "not why people
buy the tickets. The chance at the big money is the motivating
factor." Yes, one's motive is what really counts. As God told the
prophet Samuel, "The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks
at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I
In other words, supporting gambling for a supposedly
altruistic motive is usually just a false excuse for letting
greed run amok.
Pounds and talents
One principle that gambling stifles is the character trait
of productive effort. Jesus taught, through the parables of the
pounds (Luke 19:12-27) and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), God's
way of developing and increasing that which is entrusted to us.
In Luke 19, for example, spiritual growth is compared. to
the proper use of money that was "gained by trading" (verse 15).
Those who had produced wisely were rewarded.
Whether physically or spiritually, the unmistakable lesson
is that character gain necessitates personal effort. Gambling
teaches us to rely on blind "luck" to acquire increase. Here
there is no guarantee on investment, rather enormous odds against
any return at all.
It is far better to direct your hopes and efforts at
acquiring the true riches of the soon-coming Kingdom of God
For every sensational story about the world's latest
"instant millionaire," there are millions of unheralded losers
who will never recover their lost wagers in an entire lifetime.
Worse yet, the selfish motive of get, the attitude of gain at
someone else's expense, blocks the character growth needed to be
in God's Kingdom.
When you look at it that way, is it ever worth the gamble?
Entered on this Website January 2008