Is it Wrong to Gamble?

by Harley Pinon

Many years ago, I preached a sermon entitled, “Shall We Gamble?”  The outline is available on my website at  http://www.harleypinon.com/shall_we_gamble.htm  At the time I preached the sermon, state sponsored gambling was not a part of life in Texas.  That changed.  Governor “Ma” Richards was the one who supported a state sponsored lottery.

The purpose of the lottery was to raise money for the state.  That, in itself, should speak volumes.  The purpose of  gambling it to make money for someone, but whom?  If you are the gambler, it isn’t intended that you win.  Now, please understand what I am saying.  I don’t mean to imply that no one at any time will ever win, but the “cards are stacked” against you.

Let me explain it in simple terms.  The combinations have been changed, but at one time, the odds of your winning the Texas Lotto, was one in 16,000,000.  The jackpot starts at \$4,000,000 so do the math.  Yes, do the math!  I taught math for 33 years in Texas, and the more you know the numbers, the more you know to leave gambling alone.

In order to be sure of winning that \$4,000,000, you would need to buy all 16,000,000 combinations.  So let’s assume that you can figure out how to buy all 16,000,000 combinations.  Are you now a sure winner?  Yes and No.  I love that answer:  Yes and No.  As a math teacher, there was normally only one correct answer, so how can you say the answer to the question is yes and no.

The answer is yes in that you will win.  The answer is no in that you are not sure that you will get the entire \$4,000,000 because if someone else buys “the winning ticket,” then the two of you will get to split the \$4,000,000.  I often have said that life comes with few guarantees, and gambling certainly has no guarantee of winning.

As a math teacher, I actually taught students about gambling.  It was part of the course.  In the example we are studying, students were taught to study the actual “value” of their lotto ticket.  The way you do that is by dividing the value you can receive by the cost of being sure you would get it.  In this case, the answer is found by dividing \$4 million by \$16 million, and the answer is \$0.25.  In other words, each ticket that you buy for \$1 is worth \$0.25 as far as your chances of winning are concerned.

So how do you win at gambling?  If you buy only one ticket, you only have one chance of winning, but you have only lost \$0.75 in actual value.  So what if you want to be surer of winning?  Why not buy 100 tickets?  Now you have bought \$25 worth of chance at a price of \$100.  When the numbers are drawn, the greatest likelihood is that you will have lost your \$100.

Let’s look at some other aspects of gambling.  Is it wrong?  Doest the Bible say it is wrong?  We probably all know that no where in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not gamble,” but does that mean it is okay?

Let’s be honest: Gambling is fired by the fuel of greed.  As Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim 6:9-10 (NKJV), he said,   “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. {10} 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.”

Part of the appeal of gambling is something for nothing.  “The traditional American dream based on the work ethic—if one works hard, he succeeds—has been replaced by a new dream:  something for nothing.”  Charles Colson – Christianity Today, July 10, 1987.  But “something for nothing” just doesn’t work.  If we truly get “something for nothing,” or a whole lot for very little, it is because someone else, or in the case of a state lottery, millions of others have lost a little, or much, for nothing in return.  I’ve often heard gamblers reason like this:  Someone is going to win, and it might as well be me.  That sounds good, but there is a real problem with the statement:  it’s false!  In Texas, the Texas lotto rents billboards where they advertise the value of the next lottery.  Why does it change?  It goes up when no one won in the last drawing.  Think about that a moment:  no one in the entire state of Texas won!

I just returned from a Builders convention in Orlando.  I put my business card in a fishbowl for a drawing.  In fact, they drew for 5 prizes, and I didn’t win when I was in a room of only a 1,000 or so people.  Think about it!  I didn’t win in a drawing where I had 5 chances, and only 1,000 people.  What is the likelihood of winning in a Texas Lotto where there are normally millions who participate and sometimes, no winners?  So the idea that “Someone is going to win, and it might as well be me,” just isn’t sound thinking.

God’s plan for man is that we are to produce with our labor.  Even in the Garden of Eden, before man sinned, he was to care for the garden.  (Gen 2:15 NKJV)  “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”  God designed man to work.  Work is rewarding.  Ask someone where they work, and they will usually gladly tell you.   Some may not be too proud of where they work, but what is the alternative?  “I’m unemployed,” or “I’m retired.”  I’ve never known anyone to say, “I’m unemployed,” and say it with pride.  Employment is something we can be proud of.  It’s how we produce something of value for ourselves, and for others.

Paul spoke of work this way:  (2 Th 3:10-12 NKJV)  For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. {11} For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. {12} Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” Gambling produces nothing.  It is a process by which a lot of money changes hands.  A few are winners, but most are losers.

Who is the real winner in Gambling?  Let’s go back to the math problem.  If you bought the ticket, you got a \$0.25 chance of willing for \$1.00, so who got the \$0.75?  Is that hard to figure out?  It’s the one who sold you the ticket!  I’m reminded of a friend of mine who says he goes to Las Vegas to gamble—just for fun.  He has a certain rule.  He goes to spend only a certain amount, and when that is gone, he quits.  At least, that’s what he tells me.  He told me of being in Las Vegas and hiring a taxi to take him to a Casino.  He was telling the driver how he had come to gamble, and hoped he would win.  As he was about to get out of the taxi, the driver said, “Just remember, Sir, you and your friends are the ones who pay for this place.”

As a home builder, I went to Las Vegas for a builders’ convention.  I didn’t spend a cent on gambling, but it was obvious that huge amounts of money had been spent on buildings, lighting, etc., and whose money was it?  As the taxi driver reminded my friend, Las Vegas was built with the losses of those who came to get rich.

In 1 Cor 6:12 (NKJV), Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  Gambling becomes additive for many, many people.  That’s obvious from the fact that there is a Gamblers’ Anonymous.  “Compulsive gambling is now estimated to claim one million citizens—people like the New Jersey woman who embezzled \$38,000 from a bank to buy lottery tickets, and like the Pennsylvania youth who was so distraught after dropping \$6,000 trying for a \$2.5 million jackpot that he attempted suicide.”

Gambling is poor stewardship.

As Christians, we must be good stewards of the blessings God has given us.   In Luke 16:10-13 {NKJV) we read Jesus words as he said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. {11} "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? {12} "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? {13} "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

It is rather well established that some who gamble deprive their families of the necessities of life.  This is a very serious matter.  Paul said in 1 Tim 5:8 (NKJV)  “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  How can you get worse than an unbeliever:  yet that is what Paul says of those who do not provide for their families?

But Who Gambles?  Can’t they afford it?

One report stated, “What is especially unfair is that the lottery exploits those who are particularly vulnerable to the promise of a sudden windfall.  A Maryland study found that the poorest one-third of state households bought half of all weekly lottery tickets.  New York’s busiest lottery agent reports, “Seventy percent of those who buy my tickets are poor, black, or Hispanic.”  Another study concluded that the lotteries in Connecticut and Massachusetts were equivalent to a state sales tax of 60 to 90 percent on lower income groups.  A Texas Baptist official put it well:  “A lottery is the sale of an illusion to poor people who view it as the only possibility for breaking out of the cycle of poverty they live in.”

We are accountable to God for all that we possess.

The cost of gambling is too high.  In 1984, Americans wagered an estimated \$177 billion—twice as much as they spent on higher education, 15 times what they donated to churches and over half what they spent on food.  Illegal gambling had the biggest share of that total, with 28%, but state lotteries ran a close second with 22 %.

Gambling and Risks—they are Different!

Many people like to compare gambling to taking risks.  If you get in your car and take a trip, or just drive to work, there is the chance that you will not return home alive.  That is a risk that we take, and there are numerous risks that we take everyday.  Every business owner risks his money as he invests it in his business.  My sons and I are in the home building business.  We invest our money to buy land, and to build homes.  When we are successful, what is the result?  The result is that we hope to make a profit for our risks and our labor, and in turn, we have provided someone a home to live in.  There are millions of business men in various kinds of business.  All are taking risks, but that doesn’t make them gamblers.  Gamblers produce nothing.  The risks of life should have a purpose, and most do.

Some may make the stock market gambling for them, but the stock market is basically nothing more or less than partial ownership of a company.  How is the value of that company determined?  It’s determined by what people think it is worth.  It is driven by the emotions of people as well as the true value of the company.

What happens when the price of stock goes down?  Some will perceive it as an opportunity to buy a bargain and hope the price will rise.  Others will sell out of fear and drive the price down further.  In the end, I call it an investment with a risk involved.  Some stocks are far more risky than others.  Maybe some make gambling of it, but in its worst form it is still investing in a company.  It may be foolish investing, and can become very poor stewardship for some who seem driven by poor motives.

Isn’t there “recreational” or innocent gambling?

Some have the idea that there are certain forms of gambling that are okay.  For example, my dad worked in a service station where the workers would “pitch for a coke.”  Those participating would pitch a quarter at a designated crack in the concrete.  The one whose quarter landed the farthest from the crack would have to buy cokes for everyone who participated.  Some defended this practice as fine, since it was only a way of deciding who would buy the cokes.

While it is true that those who “lost” did not lose much, the fact remains, they lost.  Yes, it’s less “creative,” but why not change the system.  Let someone say, “Let me buy the cokes!”  What’s the difference?  Well, it’s going to cost him, but isn’t he going to be appreciated for what he did?

In the case of the coin toss, the recipients may thank the “giver,” but it isn’t quite the same.  Everyone knows he’s the giver because he’s the “loser.”

Is Gambling Wrong?

As we said earlier, the Bible does not say “Thou shalt not gamble.”  In fact, the words gamble, gambler, or gambling, do not occur in the Bible,  but for all the reasons given in this article, I believe that gambling is wrong and should not be participated in in any form.  Again, I didn’t say we should not take risks, but there is a difference.