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Dice & Divinity
One subject that has often intrigued me is that of the stances of different religions on gambling. Intuitively, especially when we look at locales such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Macau, one would be led to conclude that gambling would be considered a vice by most major religions and is to be avoided.
However, the actual situation is more complicated that as a great many religious texts wouldn’t seem to have much in the way of direct prohibitions on gambling. Of course, some religious texts are interpreted by some religious authorities that way, even if those texts don’t literally speak to gambling. Often, it is considered that the act of gambling would go against some other general tenet of various religions, as we will discuss below.
The next thing that I should say is that this Forum has a prohibition on religious and political discussion, unless that discussion relates directly back to gambling. While the comments section of articles is not necessarily moderated as heavily as the Forums, I would suggest that any commentary be kept strictly focused on gambling as it pertains to religion. In short, we are not here to discuss our personal religious views or any of the merits or downfalls of religion itself.
Naturally, I will not be covering all of the world’s religions in this one article because the article would become absurd in length. I don’t know how many religions are in the world, at least, not to such extent that they would be specific religions completely separate from others, but I do know when you get into denominations, tribes, faith groups, etc…the number would seem to be some amount over 4,000….way too many to cover.
Also, I would like to apologize in advance if this article seems to have a slight bias in favor of discussing religions most commonly found in the United States, but that’s where I am from. I would also like to apologize if I get any semi-fundamental facts incorrect (or interpret something incorrectly) as relates to a specific religion as my only direct experience with different denominations comes in the form of some branch of Christianity or the other.
Of course, that seems like a good enough place to start:
For the purposes of Christianity, we will discuss quite a few denominations as some Christian denominations can be significantly different from others. For example, Catholicism would be considered a denomination of Christianity, (as the only major criteria is the belief in Christ, which Catholicism has) but in terms of religious practices, Catholicism couldn’t be more different from a great many other denominations.
Another example of a denomination that is much different than others is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). One thing that makes this religion significantly different is that they are a bit more insulated than others, (which only means that they don’t much interact with other denominations) but they are very active in trying to, ‘Convert,’ people to the faith as they and Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for sometimes going door-to-door to discuss their faith with people in various communities.
The LDS also has some rules that aren’t typically found in other religions. For example, they have a prohibition against, “Hot,” beverages. As mentioned before, various denominations (even of one basic religion) have a tendency of disagreeing with one another, but on some occasions, a denomination changes its own mind. In the case of the LDS, “Hot Drinks,” have always referred to a general prohibition against alcohol, (they also forbid tobacco) but were also seen as including coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages-such as cola.
Interestingly, it’s only recently that the church has relaxed this position, so whilst tea and coffee are still prohibited by the faith; its adherents may now consume caffeinated soft drinks without fear of having committed a minor transgression.
Once again, please note that I am not (for the purposes of this article) offering an opinion on any of this, but rather, am presenting this as nothing more than a statement of fact to demonstrate that various denominations of a substantially similar fundamental religion can differ, and in some cases, even change their own mind about something.
With that, since we have already discussed Mormonism, let’s go ahead and start with them:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a relatively young denomination and, in fact, one that started in this country. Mostly centered in Utah, this religion began when a man named Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet of the God of Abraham (and, evidently, was believed by some people) and by one means or another, wrote the Book of Mormon.
One common misconception of the Book of Mormon is that Joseph Smith just started sitting down and writing stuff that was essentially to be taken as another New Testament, for lack of a better term. That’s not exactly true. Evidently, the Book of Mormon relates to the experiences of humans living in or near what is now the United States of America from 500 B.C. to 421 A.D..
That’s why Joseph Smith was seen, at least, in part, as a prophet. Essentially, as the Mormons would have it, God chose Joseph Smith for the purpose of revealing this word and sharing these accounts from that time in the history of this continent. Are there any independent writings that we have found that support what is in the Book of Mormon? It wouldn’t seem that there are, yet, but I again want to make clear that I am not offering a personal opinion on any of this.
Of course, the Mormons were not always primarily located in Utah. In fact, they were not primarily located there at any point during Joseph Smith’s life. For his part, Smith’s church suffered from a few defectors.
Before we get into that, however, we must point out that Joseph Smith did have a stronghold. Pooling their resources, Smith and the LDS would buy a town in Illinois (you read that right), which went through a few different names prior to being named, “Commerce.” One of the previous names was Nauvoo, Illinois, which Smith decided to rename the town to after the purchase.
The town ended up being a place where the LDS would concentrate themselves, and with that, Joseph Smith would become the mayor of Nauvoo. All was not peaceful amongst the Mormons, however, because some defectors from the church would eventually start a newspaper that they named the Nauvoo Expositor.
The publication did not last terribly long as they reported that Smith was not only a polygamist (this is another issue upon which the church has changed positions and even some sects of the faith have a favorable position towards poilygamy), but also, that he wanted to essentially set himself up to be a sort of Divine Monarchy. Of course, one might think that would conflict with the fact that they were located in the United States, but Smith had purchased the town and, provided he comports with all of the laws of the United States and of Illinois, (and the fact that the First Amendment, as relates Freedom of Religion, was interpreted even more broadly back then) there’s really no law that says you can’t act as de facto king of a small area.
Just to clarify the previous paragraph, what I am saying is that there didn’t seem to be anything illegal about what he was doing as long as he wasn’t trying to secede his little town from the United States, and also provided that he otherwise adhered to all state and national laws.
In any event, Smith didn’t take too kindly to be harangued by this new publication, so rather than defend himself against them with superior rhetoric and argumentation, he saw fit to burn it to the ground.
Unfortunately, for Smith, he would have documents submitted to Nauvoo City Council that intended to charge him with inciting a riot. Of course, Smith was, for all intents and purposes, the king of Nauvoo, so he instead declared martial law.
Even less fortunately for Smith, while his declaration of martial law handled the immediate problem, he, his brother and others were ordered to appear in Carthage (county seat) on charges of treason against the State of Illinois. Smith fled, at first, but then traveled with this group to Carthage to face the accusations. However, whilst awaiting these proceedings from their jail cells, a group of some 200 individuals would instead storm the jail and kill Smith, his brother and other people involved in the destruction of the press.
With that, Smith became something of a martyr and there were even some who argued that he (and others) were victims of religious persecution. While I am not taking a personal stance for the purposes of this article, it could very well be argued that any, ‘Persecution,’ that would have existed was likely done by former (and perhaps even current) members of the LDS as the only problem Illinois had with him was the fact that it was treasonous to destroy a printing press and then declare martial law as mayor of a town.
In summation, I don’t think there can be any question that Smith was not rightfully in jail. The destruction of a printing press, especially since he was acting in his capacity as mayor, is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the United States of America, not to mention any number of other laws that were broken as a result. Beyond that, Smith had no jurisdiction and nothing that the state would have seen as a legitimate reason to declare martial law.
Most importantly, it wasn’t the state (or federal government) that killed him, but rather, that was largely done by his own former followers as well as, possibly, some other members of the church.
Smith’s brother was meant to be the next in line of succession, but he was also killed. Ultimately, three men would lay claim to being Smith’s replacement, to later be joined by a group claiming it should be Smith’s son. In the case of Smith’s son, they would go on to form the Church of Christ (which does not have anything to do with churches presently called that, necessarily) that would later reform as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and who, as of more or less twenty years ago, rebranded to Community of Christ.
The biggest segment of people who broke away, and remained as the main body Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, would follow Brigham Young (who became their prophet) to what would become the State of Utah. Of course, Utah’s official statehood came several decades after these folks arrived.
Interestingly, many Utah residents visit Las Vegas (and other parts of Nevada) every year. I was able to find a very detailed study that breaks down some statistics on Las Vegas visitation, but unfortunately, I wasn’t really able to find anything that would isolate Utah as a place of origin.
However, one thing that illustrates that there are a great many visitors coming to Nevada from Utah is a travel site for the state, and as you can see, Wendover is promoted as a destination for folks not only from Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, but also for folks who live basically anywhere in that general area of Utah.
Initially, one would probably be inclined to believe that a denomination that once had a blanket ban on all caffeinated products, and still forbids alcohol, would be strongly opposed to gambling, right? As it turns out, not exactly.
In terms of the church’s official position, their website leaves little room for doubt that the church itself opposes gambling. I’m sure they won’t mind being quoted, but if they do, I will remove both the quote and the link, upon request:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.
Gambling is motivated by a desire to get something for nothing. This desire is spiritually destructive. It leads participants away from the Savior’s teachings of love and service and toward the selfishness of the adversary. It undermines the virtues of work and thrift and the desire to give honest effort in all we do.
Those who participate in gambling soon discover the deception in the idea that they can give little or nothing and receive something of value in return. They find that they give up large amounts of money, their own honor, and the respect of family members and friends. Deceived and addicted, they often gamble with funds they should use for other purposes, such as meeting the basic needs of their families. Gamblers sometimes become so enslaved and so desperate to pay gambling debts that they turn to stealing, giving up their own good name.
We can also look at law for the State of Utah, and whilst the Federal Government requires a separation of church and state, that only pragmatically happens when the church doesn’t have the numbers game dominated. Aside from anything that they might otherwise want to do that would conflict with Federal law, the LDS de facto runs the State of Utah. For that reason, no form of gambling is legal in the state and I seriously doubt ever will be.
In fact, when online gambling began to take off (offshore), Utah was one of the few states to actually draft legislation to add to their, “Unlawful Gambling,” laws a prohibition against gambling online. Their current laws already kind of had it covered by the simple fact that they made, “Gambling,” a crime—with no qualifiers—but I guess they wanted to make sure it was absolutely clear.
However, virtually any church leadership is going to be openly opposed to gambling. Even if not directly opposed, they are going to be very quick to discuss the risks associated with dappling in the practice. However, the real question is, does the LDS prohibit gambling?
In the case of the LDS, the key is to understand the difference between a sin and a transgression:
The main difference to understand between sins and transgressions:
Sins: In the LDS, what is or is not a sin is pretty clearly defined. In the case of the church, if it considered gambling a sin, as it does consuming, “Hot drinks,” then they would simply say that it is a sin to do it. In the view of the LDS faith, sins are, “Willful transgressions against the lord.”
How does one willfully transgress against the Lord? Well, it involves, in their view, the Lord basically saying, “This is a sin; don’t do it,” but then you then you go ahead and do it anyway.
In the case of other God of Abraham based denominations, you basically have the Ten Commandments (which the LDS also subscribes to) and a great many other things that the other churches simply refer to as, “Sins.” Naturally, some churches will disagree on what does or does not qualify as a sin, but in most cases, something is either a sin or it is not and there are no lesser categories of sin.
Transgressions: Transgressions are actions that are not specifically forbidden by the Lord, but might result in a person turning away from the Lord or otherwise causing the person to act in a spiritually or philosophically improper way.
In short, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not flatly prohibit gambling because, in their view, there is no word coming down from God that specifically would declare gambling to be a sin. In their view, what makes gambling a transgression is the fact that it can lead to selfishness, can lead to a desire to get something for nothing, can be motivated by wanting to win money in exchange for no work, or finally, can lead one to commit things (such as theft) that are actually sins.
However, the simple act of gambling, taken alone, does nothing provided that it does not lead to any of these other sins or desires. Certainly, the church would prefer you not take the risk, either with your money or with your soul, but they don’t outright forbid it.
The Mormon church is also interesting in that they do not conceive of Heaven, which they term as the, “Kingdoms of Glory,” (within Heaven) as some sort of binary. Instead, they have Perdition, which is for those who know of God’s power but willfully disobeyed him. However, this Perdition is merely a kingdom that is not a, “Kingdom of Glory,” some have said that it is basically similar to Earth, except it will only be a bunch of sinners there.
Of course, I thought it would be beneficial to speak to someone directly, so I called a local branch of the LDS and spoke to one of their elders. I didn’t get verbatim quotes, so don’t think it’s necessary to name him (he didn’t seem to care, either way), so I want to bullet point a few fundamental ideas in his view:
*He agreed that there is a difference between a sin and a minor transgression to such extent that sins are done with the intention, will and foreknowledge that one is subverting God’s will.
*However, he said that he found my position (based on what I read) a bit, “Legal sounding,” for his liking. With that, he suggested that whether or not it qualifies as a sin or transgression isn’t so much relevant, but the real goal should be to become more and more godlike, both now and after death, so that we can be closer to God(1) between now and our actions between death and the resurrection.(2)
- The first note to be made here is that, in addition to perdition, the LDS also believes that there are three, “Kingdoms of Glory,” which are the Telestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom and Celestial Kingdom.
- Because (1), the real goal is to achieve admission to the Celestial Kingdom, but in order to do that, one should actively avoid all sins and transgressions, essentially, always acting in a way in which one asks oneself, “What would God do?” and acting accordingly, whilst repenting any sins or transgressions one might accidentally commit.
With that, unlike the vast majority of Abrahamic religions, this Heaven/Hell thing isn’t as much of a binary in the sense of the LDS. In fact, their belief is that, after death, even the worst sinner in life will have the opportunity to account for his/her sins, repent and accept God. They also say that they are in no position to judge individuals and declare where they might or might not go, for only God can judge, and God (unlike what many other religions suggest) is going to take into account all of a person’s lifetime circumstances, rather than just looking at whether they sinned and failed to repent, or not.
In that sense, the goal is always to just live as well as you can and in the most Godlike fashion possible, which, as the elder would indicate, gambling is generally not conducive to. In his opinion, gambling is simply not something that God would ever do, so while the categories of Heaven, Hell (or Perdition) and sins aren’t just blanket sets of binary rules, living in the most Godlike manner possible can be answered with a binary question, “Would God do this action that I am thinking about doing?”
In any event, the Elder does agree with my earlier analysis that gambling, in and of itself, would not strictly qualify as a sin because there is nothing directly stated by God that would make it so. In other words, for someone to gamble may not be acting in a fashion that is God-like, but nor is it exactly directly opposing his word. However, the Elder was quick to point out that gambling can lead to other sins, or it can lead to other spiritual flaws, such as greed or jealousy.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that a spiritual leader of the LDS would be inclined to avoid gambling as, I would presume, most spiritual leaders of most faiths would.
That brings us to the Catholics, and I will apologize if I do not spend the time on the history of the denomination as I did with the Mormons, (Catholicism is actually considered, by some, to effectively be a separate religion rather than a Christian denomination) but the Catholic Church has a very long history and the LDS actually started in the United States of America…so getting into that full history was a bit more warranted.
When it comes to the position of the Catholics, generally speaking, gambling is not, in and of itself, ever a sin. The reason that I add the verbiage, “Generally speaking,” is because it is possible that some Catholics might consider the act of gambling a sin, and I am not seeking to get into matters of opinion, so I wanted to briefly acknowledge that some individuals might feel that way.
For those who live in areas with high concentrations of Catholics, or for those who attend (or know people who do) a Catholic church, you’ll know that it is not at all unusual to see congregants in casinos and other areas that have gambling. In fact, a longtime participant at this very forum, FRGamble, is himself a Catholic priest.
Furthermore, it is also not unusual for Catholic churches to host fundraisers, even on properties owned/controlled by them, during which gambling is conducted. Specifically, I’m referring to fundraisers that often conduct Bingo as well as the selling of raffle tickets and pull tabs-depending on state law.
The website, Catholic.com, addresses this very question in a lengthy discussion that you can read here.
They are quick to point out that what they term the, “Stereotype,” of Bingo in Catholic churches is largely overblown and that some churches do not engage in Bingo nights. Personally, I would say that many stereotypes only become stereotypes (though not all) because they are true at least sometimes, and as a point of direct empirical observation (as opposed to just my own opinion) a great many Catholic churches do have Bingo nights.
The website goes on to say:
Second, gambling is not in and of itself wrong. Read your Bible and you will not find gambling condemned anywhere in it.
The average gambler loses money, but the process is entertaining, so what gambling amounts to is paying money to be entertained, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Gambling becomes sinful only when one pays too much money for the entertainment. A person in a casino spending thousands of dollars that his family needs is committing a sin, and the Church is very firm about this (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2413). It would likewise be sinful for a person to spend thousands of dollars his family needed on other forms of entertainment, too, like limited edition books, movies, collector’s items, or whatever.
Essentially, they share the position that I got from the LDS that gambling is not in and of itself wrong, but they differ from the LDS in the sense that the Catholics would seem to see gambling, in some contexts, as harmless entertainment. If pressed, I’m sure that a Catholic priest would acknowledge (and the website does acknowledge) that gambling can become a sin if done to excess or to the point that responsibilities that people do have, financially speaking, are being neglected…but they seem more open to recreational gambling than does the LDS.
Essentially, the Catholics seem to make their adherents aware of the potential downfalls of gambling, but do not consider it an act to be flatly avoided. While the LDS considers it a minor transgression, as opposed to a sin, the LDS seems to be more concerned with the fact that the person is not acting in a Godlike manner. In the case of the Catholic Church, it would seem that gambling, in and of itself, bears no relationship to God and is not an affront to him in any way if pursued recreationally and using only those monies one can afford to lose.
Being interested in the citation in the above quoted portion, I looked it up, and it has this to say:
2413 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.
With that, we see a number of qualifiers involved in whether or not, “Unfair wagers,” can be sins. However, even that comes with the caveat that the damage being insignificant renders it immaterial. In other words, the return of a lottery ticket (for example) might be considered palpably unfair, but they would probably look at the damage inflicted as being trivial as long as one is not spending an undue amount of money on lottery tickets.
What is interesting about this is the notion that they become morally unacceptable when they, “...deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others,” which would seem to concern the operators of gambling establishments or games (provided they subscribe to the faith) as much as it does patrons.
That will bring us to another denomination of Abrahamic religion that is considered to be somewhat separate from most other denominations in philosophy. For whatever reason, Catholic.com also spends some time discussing the Jehovah’s Witnesses:
Reportedly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are another denomination that began in the United States of America, though a bit later in the 19th century than did the LDS.
This denomination was started by a man named Charles Taze Russell, who was once a Protestant (which is another offshoot of the Catholic Church, but this time from Germany, and by Martin Luther, in the early 16th Century). The problem that Charles Taze Russell had was that he could not figure out how the concept of Hell, but also that of a merciful God, could possibly co-exist.
Because of being unable to reconcile the two notions that he saw as competing, Charles Taze Russell would first become and Atheist, but then would turn to Agnosticism as he determined that the other faiths having an errant conception doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no God whatsoever.
Charles Taze Russell not only planted the seeds for what would develop into what are now called Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he also started a publication called The Watch Tower. In terms of this church, their primary interest is in that of salvation and their goal is to predict the terms by which the world will end and the holy will be saved.
Russell believed that the Bible could be used to accurately predict this, though I don’t think that I am being unfair to suggest that any such predictions have yet to ever be proven accurate. In other words, it’s not so much a matter of opinion, but rather one of objective fact, that various religions and denominations have been forced to move the goalposts on that one.
The name of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, which is a bit wordy, was abandoned in favor of renaming themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. This name was put into place by the second President of the denomination, as he would suggest that such was the true name of God and followers of this denomination are the true chosen followers of God–-which, objectively, is something that quite a few religions have claimed.
This denomination would grow slowly at first, mostly concentrated in Pennsylvania (it started in Pittsburgh) and surrounding states. As opposed to churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses name their congregational buildings, “Kingdom Halls,” and those tend to be arguably less opulent than the churches of a great many other Christian denominations. In many cases, they’re small(ish) buildings that are not adorned as ornately, or expensively, as you might see with churches such as Catholic churches.
In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not actually believe in Hell, which of course goes back to how they were founded. However, they also do not believe in the possibility of salvation after death as does the LDS, and to a smaller extent (Purgatory), the Catholics. Instead, it is the belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the righteous will become members of what they call the, “Millennial Kingdom,” whilst those who reject God will simply be removed from existence. Honestly, and just for brevity, that sounds pretty good given the choice between that and eternal punishment.
The Jehovah Witnesses have modes of behavior that differ significantly from other Abrahamic faiths. For one thing, they believe that marriage is a holy union, and absolutely forbid divorce, with exception only to cases of adultery. The Jehovah Witnesses are pacifists who will not perform military service and they also believe that the Will of God supersedes the law of the land if the two should ever be in conflict.
There are a few other observances, or lack thereof really, that I could get into, but I believe what has been presented is enough to sufficiently highlight some of the differences between other denominations and themselves.
In terms of their official stance, they do not seem to expressly forbid gambling, and freely admit that the Bible has very little to say about it, but they also see it as a gateway to sin:
The basic nature of gambling—winning money at the expense of others—is at odds with the Bible’s warning to “guard against every sort of greed.” (Luke 12:15) Gambling is, in fact, fueled by greed. Gaming institutions advertise big jackpots, while downplaying the poor odds of winning, because they know that dreams of wealth prompt players to wager large amounts at the casinos. Rather than helping a person guard against greed, gambling promotes the desire for easy money.
Gambling is based on an inherently selfish goal: winning money that other players have lost. However, the Bible encourages a person to “keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) And one of the Ten Commandments states: “You must not desire . . . anything that belongs to your fellow man.” (Exodus 20:17) When a gambler sets his heart on winning, he is, in essence, hoping that others will lose their money in order for him to profit.
Essentially, the last bit could be seen as suggesting that gamblers should not desire the money of another, ‘Man,’ presumably, even if that man is a corporate casino. Similarly to the LDS, and to a lesser extent Catholicism, the main concern is when gambling can become motivated by greed…and Jehovah Witnesses would also suggest that gambling can lead to sin when it might cause an individual to abdicate his or her other responsibilities.
However, it has been elsewhere suggested that gambling, or even working in an establishment in which gambling takes place, can lead to disfellowship from the faith:
Jehovah's Witnesses are not permitted to gamble, and if they do can be disfellowshipped.
Whilst Gambling can be unwise when it becomes an addiction or when not done in a controlled manner, in its place it can be an enjoyable pastime. Bambling is never stated as wrong in the Bible, even though it was in common practice in Ancient times, as shown in the Bible account of soldiers casting lots over Jesus' garments (Matthew 27:35. The Watchtower’s justification for its stance is that gambling promotes greed, and a gambler is worshipping the God of good luck and so becomes an idolater. If gambling really was unchristian, the Scriptures would have stated as much. The majority of occasional gamblers are neither idolaters or greedy, yet the Watchtower goes as far as to include free gambling and working where people who gamble as cause to be removed from the congregation.
Assuming all of this can be taken as accurate, the church would seem to acknowledge that the Bible does not expressly forbid gambling as a clearly-defined sin, however, gambling has a high enough probability of eventually leading to sin that it can cause an individual to be removed from the congregation. On the surface, that could be taken as the church being even more strictly against gambling that God is!
The Methodist Church is another denomination of Christianity that has a specific means by which they address social issues that are either not covered by the Bible at all, or in the alternative, matters to which the Bible doesn’t spend a great amount of text addressing.
The Methodist Church is another church that began in the United States, though as differentiated from the LDS and Jehovah Witnesses, this church did not begin because of a fundamental problem with the teachings of the church it was an offshoot of, or because of any new prophecy and testament, but rather, because founder, John Wesley, wanted to create a church due to the fact that his Anglican Church would no longer operate within the United States.
Fundamentally, Methodism is one of a few offshoots of Protestantism, this one coming about by way of the fact that the Anglican Church (not meaning the small Anglican Church of America denomination that was founded in 2009, obviously) would no longer provide services to the United States.
For those who don’t know, the official Head of the Anglican Church was the King of England, and they would stop servicing the United States shortly after the United States became a country, so I’m sure everyone can do the math on that!
In any event, Methodism didn’t have any great fundamental differences or disputes with the Anglican Church themselves, at least, not on the Methodists’ or John Wesley’s end. In fact, the only way to become a Methodist Priest was to have hands laid on him by an Anglican Bishop. Eventually, the Anglicans would refuse to ordain a certain Dr. Thomas Coke, so Wesley ended up ordaining him himself, which would eventually prove to be the point that separated the Methodists from the Anglicans, more or less, once and for all.
For their part, the Methodists Church dictates from a book of what they call, “Social Principles,” which is the church’s way of addressing questions that are not specifically answered by the Bible. For example, on tobacco, Social Principles has this to say:
We affirm our historic tradition of high standards of personal discipline and social responsibility. In light of the overwhelming evidence that tobacco smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are hazardous to the health of persons of all ages, we recommend total abstinence from the use of tobacco.
We urge that our educational and communication resources be utilized to support and encourage such abstinence. Further, we recognize the harmful effects of passive smoke and support the restriction of smoking in public areas and workplaces.
What you will notice in this section is that the Methodist church, “Recommends,” the complete abstinence from the use of tobacco, but the Social Principles do not go so far as to call the use of tobacco a sin. Instead, they defend their recommendation by pointing out that the use of tobacco contravenes their notion of personal discipline. In other words, they are extremely opposed to their members using tobacco (though there are drop ashtrays outside of some of their churches), but don’t go as far as to say that it is a sin, or, for that matter, necessarily even contravenes God’s will.
If we look at another Social Principle, this time concerning what the Methodists perceive as the role of women in society, I think it can reasonably be flatly stated (not a matter of opinion) that their positions are much more liberal-leaning than those of other Christian denominations:
We affirm women and men to be equal in every aspect of their common life. We therefore urge that every effort be made to eliminate sex-role stereotypes in activity and portrayal of family life and in all aspects of voluntary and compensatory participation in the Church and society. We affirm the right of women to equal treatment in employment, responsibility, promotion, and compensation. We affirm the importance of women in decision-making positions at all levels of Church and society and urge such bodies to guarantee their presence through policies of employment and recruitment. We support affirmative action as one method of addressing the inequalities and discriminatory practices within our Church and society. We urge employers of persons in dual career families, both in the Church and society, to apply proper consideration of both parties when relocation is considered. We affirm the right of women to live free from violence and abuse and urge governments to enact policies that protect women against all forms of violence and discrimination in any sector of society.
Given all of these things, it would see that we wouldn’t expect the Methodist Church to have a strict stance against gambling, right? Well, prepare to be surprised:
Gambling, as a means of acquiring material gain by chance and at the neighbor’s expense, is a menace to personal character and social morality. Gambling fosters greed and stimulates the fatalistic faith in chance. Organized and commercial gambling is a threat to business, breeds crime and poverty, and is destructive to the interests of good government. It encourages the belief that work is unimportant, that money can solve all our problems, and that greed is the norm for achievement. It serves as a “regressive tax” on those with lower income. In summary, gambling is bad economics; gambling is bad public policy; and gambling does not improve the quality of life.
This verbiage related to the, “Fatalistic faith in chance,” is especially interesting as I would say that this outlook puts them closer to Jehovah’s Witnesses (on gambling) than any other religion discussed thus far. Specifically, Jehovah Witness’ teachings refer to an individual placing his or her faith in the, “God of Luck,” and therefore, they have committed idolatry, have placed a God before their God of Abraham (Jehovah) and therefore, have broken one of the Ten Commandments.
While the Methodist Church doesn’t go quite that far, it does refer to what they term the, “Fatalistic Faith in Chance,” which is verbiage that I find simply fascinating. Essentially, they are just saying that people are hoping that they will run better than what would probabilistically be expected, but are saying it in a much different way. It’s also interesting that they again refer to, “At the neighbor’s expense,” which would seem to insinuate that the casinos and Governments (in the case of the lottery) are still seen as neighbors, in that regard.
They also cite some economic arguments in referring to gambling, and probably especially the lottery, as a, “Regressive tax,” which is interesting as this is the first official discussion that we have seen that has any concern about gambling outside of just the religious consequences.
Despite the First Amendment and what Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, “A wall of separation between church and state,” says; the Methodists are very clear, further down the page, that they believe there is a social responsibility for them to oppose gambling in every way that they can:
We support the strong enforcement of antigambling laws and the repeal of all laws that give gambling an acceptable and even advantageous place in our society.
In essence, it is pretty clear that the church’s official position is that it opposes gambling in all forms and, contrary to some of their other more seemingly liberal stances, believes that it has a duty, as do the congregants, to oppose gambling with everything they have.
Honestly, it’s pretty fascinating, but does the church go as far as to call gambling a sin? This page promoted by the Methodists has this to add:
Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice....
The Church's prophetic call is to promote standards of justice and advocacy that would make it unnecessary and undesirable to resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, Internet gambling, gambling with an emerging wireless technology and other games of chance-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.
What fascinates me about this is that the church retains its strong stance against gambling, but their reasoning for it is that they think that society should be structured such that gambling would be seen as, “Unnecessary and undesirable,” and that there should be no need to do it anyway. Simply put, they see no reason that it should be seen as a desirable means of recreation, and especially not as a means of producing revenue—for anyone!
Unfortunately, they don’t seem to really speak as to whether or not the act of gambling, in and of itself, is a sin. With that, I called a local Methodist pastor, who actually stated that he would prefer to remain anonymous, as he is speaking for himself and not the church as a whole, and the next few paragraphs will paraphrase the discussion.
Essentially, I was correct in my analysis that the Methodist Church is one that is concerned more about the welfare of general society, in this case, that of the United States, but is more broadly concerned with the social affairs of the world. Other teachings in the church tend not to focus too much on attacking specific issues, but rather, creating a society of love and prosperity (paraphrased) such that people would simply have no desire to do those things that could be seen as sinful, as everyone would already be living well and harmoniously.
Beyond that, when it comes to the question of whether or not gambling, as done by an individual, is a sin, the pastor’s answer amounts to: It depends.
Specifically, in taking actions that have not been expressly forbidden by God, the pastor’s take on it is that God is going to look into what is in an individual’s heart. For example, if an individual is motivated to gamble simply so that individual can obtain something that they want and do not already have, then that gambling would be motivated by greed and would, accordingly, be construed as a sin.
However, if an individual is gambling small sums for the purest of recreational purposes…essentially, doing it for its own sake as an activity as opposed to actually caring about the money changing hands, then it might not be sinful.
The pastor would also go on to discuss the broader tenets to be a good steward of the world, oneself and of one’s neighbors. In that, he states that, similar to smoking…gambling is not a specifically-defined sin, but, as with smoking, one could hardly be considered to be acting as a good steward of oneself and one’s neighbors. That’s true even with the question of greed aside.
The pastor would go on to allow that, in his opinion (and particularly by the standards of Christian denominations) you could see the Methodist Church as being more progressive than most. As with the church, his position is that it would simply be better to live in a harmonious society where everyone is well taken care of and should have no desire to gamble anyway, if for no other reason, because there are more fun things to do that are of greater social value and bring more glory to God.
The Baptist Church (of which there are several denominations in themselves) is the one where I have the most personal experience. That said, it was a great many years ago and I don’t remember the topic of gambling ever being specifically covered.
The one thing that I can say is, in terms of what some might perceive as, “Strictness,” they were about as strict as any church that I have ever entered. They were very clear about what does or does not constitute a sin and, rather than concerning themselves with an ideal version of society, seemed to mostly be concerned about what individuals do or do not do and whether they are going to go to Heaven or Hell.
One thing that will make this easier is that American Baptist Churches (an entity that oversees some number of individual churches, has released a statement that addresses the church’s position on gambling:
Gambling, in the form of sports betting, casinos, lotteries, and all
other kinds is an intrusion into people's lives and communities, many of
which are already burdened by economic and social disintegration. Rich
and poor alike are susceptible to the urge to gamble and may become
addicted to gambling. Gambling promoters keep people coming back by
giving the impression that there is a good chance to win.
A disturbing reality is that local and state governments see gambling as
a source of income and become primary promoters. Government sponsored
billboards and television advertisements herald the benefits of
gambling. Access to gambling, once restricted, is now frequently
available in the nearest supermarket, convenience store, or shopping
plaza and is often targeted to persons of lower incomes, shifting the
burden of government to those less able to pay. The gambling industry
often draws money away from the economic and social groups they claim to
aid. Revenue raised by the gambling industry has often been an excuse
for diversion of other resources from the economic and social problems
the industry claims to aid. Revenue raised by the gambling industry has
not been the solution to the economic and social problems the industry
claims to provide.
The one aspect that surprises me the most about this is the organization’s apparent concern with the broader social questions related to gambling. In this specific instance, they seem to share the same trait with the Methodists of attacking gambling on the grounds that they think it is a broader social ill.
Again, without giving a personal opinion on any religion or denomination, I will say that the discussion of a broader social anything is very contrary to my experience with the church I attended for a few years. The church I attended did not care very much about broader social issues, labeling them as, ‘Secular,’ and Governmental policies not being of the church’s concern. I do not know if that means that the church has changed, to take a broader perspective on these questions, or whether that one particular minister just preferred his, “You do this; you do not do that, or you will go to Hell,” general messaging.
In terms of the religious text, which is the Bible, in this case…other denominations refer to gambling being done even in Biblical times by way of the, “Casting of lots,” but the American Baptist Churches organization immediately dismisses this notion:
Games involving throwing dice or other objects were known in biblical
times. These games extended to gambling but are only mentioned in
reference to Jesus' clothes (John 19-24). "Casting lots" was a cultural
way of determining responsibility and a religious way to know God's will
(Nahum 3:10); (Josh. 18:6); (Acts 1:26). "Casting lots" is never
endorsed as a way to get money.
In other words, they acknowledge that, “Casting lots,” was a form of gambling, but essentially make the argument that people were playing for prizes rather than monetary considerations.
They go on to cite the potential for covetousness (read: jealousy of what others have) and greed, which are directly contrary to what the faith believes a person should be concerned about. In this aspect, it would seem that they agree with all of the denominations aforementioned as all involved seem highly concerned about the potential for greed. They also point out that one who gambles is failing to, “Trust God for their daily bread.”
I will say that the last part seems like a bit of a stretch, to me. I guess they might use that in reference to advantage players, or something like that, but it otherwise would seem to imply that a person is generally gambling as a means to survival or exclusively for the purpose of perceived financial gain.
Of the denominations that we have discussed so far, the most opposed to this view is the Catholics, who all but directly say that gambling can often just be a harmless form of recreation. The next least opposed is probably the LDS, who don’t go as far as to say that gambling MUST AND CAN ONLY BE motivated by greed, but rather, restrict their position somewhat by suggesting that gambling can lead to greed. Despite their strong broad position against gambling, the Methodist priest with whom I discussed the question says that it’s what is in a person’s heart when he is doing the activity (which only God knows) that matters.
Finally, this position would seem to be a bit softer than that of the Jehovah Witnesses who, whilst acknowledging that gambling is not specifically described as a sin, might still excommunicate you from the church if you choose to do it anyway.
We also have a recent article here, which discusses the question from the perspective of a Baptist. We start with:
There is no Bible verse explicitly condemning gambling. And as Christians we do not want to add to God’s law and forbid things He has never forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2). To do so would be to say we know better than God about what is right and wrong. However, there are some verses about how we should think about money that we should consider when thinking about this subject.
That’s an interesting take on it, to me, because it would seem that American Baptist Churches all but forbade the activity in my first citation. They all but said the only possible reason for a person to be gambling is in order to get money, therefore, gambling must always relate back to greed. Of course, I guess you could still argue that they didn’t explicitly forbid the activity.
The second article goes on to discuss, “Covetousness,” and again suggests that poverty is more likely to befall a person trying to get rich quickly as opposed to a person who works hard to try to accumulate wealth. It’s an interesting citation to make, in my opinion, because I would argue that most people who gamble do not actually believe that they will get rich. I suppose people who play Mega Millions and Powerball might be buying those tickets with that hope, but I can’t imagine someone playing red chips on the Pass Line actually believes they are going to get rich as a result. Even if they did (they won’t anyway), it certainly wouldn’t be quick.
Ultimately, the writer still arrives at the conclusion that he doesn’t believe gambling is inherently sinful, but if the official stance of ABC is any indication, they certainly believe that it is every word you can possibly think of short of, ‘Sinful.’ Even with that, the writer closes with some of his concerns:
A believer might also want to consider how others might perceive them going to a casino. Even if its not inherently sinful, if we know it would cause a brother with a gambling problem to stumble, or if it would cause the unbelieving world to think that Christians are consumed by gambling, I would say you should not go. We should walk in a way as to not cause our brothers to stumble nor the world to think we are just like them.
In terms of logic, this position is unusual in that he suggests that merely walking into a casino might give others the idea that Christians are consumed by gambling. How? Is the person going to walk into the casino wearing a T-Shirt that says, “I am a member of the Baptist Church?” For someone to know that you were a Christian, they would have had to have seen you either at a church event, or the church itself.
More than that, the Catholic position on gambling is probably the most tolerant of any that we have read so far, but I don’t think most people would describe Catholics (as a whole) of being, “Consumed by gambling.” Again, it just seems like a really unusual observation to make, but from my perspective, very consistent with my experience with the Baptist Church.
Essentially, what they preached a lot was that, if you sin, then by doing so, you will probably lead someone else to sin. If you witness sinning taking place and do nothing, then you are just as guilty as the sinner themselves. It’s for that reason that many Baptists take what some might perceive as a hard right stance on social issues. Again, just speaking from my personal observations, the church is very concerned about its congregants essentially policing themselves as well as those around them.
With that, we will turn our attention to Southern Baptist Churches (SBC), which is another major Baptist organization. We aren’t going to cover any other Baptist sects beyond that or we would be here for quite some time as there are a great many smaller ones as well as any number of churches who are independents, but self-describe as Baptists. Beyond that, they are mostly independent for in-denomination politics reasons as they believe that individual churches should be autonomous and not held to the standards of a greater religious authority, aside from God, of course.
Anyway, the SBC has also released an official position on the matter of gambling: Broken up into smaller pieces and called, “The Sin of Gambling,” we will quote the resolutions and discuss:
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, condemn gambling in all its forms; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we urge our leaders at all levels of government to end state-sponsored gambling, to curtail all forms of destructive gambling, and to address its harmful effects through policy and legislation; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage our Convention leaders, entities, and pastors to continue to educate Southern Baptists on the deceptive sin of gambling; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we urge our fellow Southern Baptists and all other followers of Christ not to participate in the sin of gambling.
With that, we see that the SBC has taken the most aggressive anti-gambling stance so far in that they do go as far as to call it a, “Sin.”
As we see, this is a difference than with the ABC or the individual writer who we cited earlier in that, if the Bible does not specifically deem something to be a sin, then essentially, while they may describe the social ills and the sins that could result indirectly—they cannot actually call the activity (in and of itself) a sin—because God has not.
It would seem that the SBC places no such self-restriction, instead, they cite various verses of the Bible and work them together to ultimately arrive at the conclusion that gambling is a sin.
Because of that, the SBC has the strongest stance against gambling of any denomination that we have discussed thus far, as they are the only ones to flatly declare that gambling is a sin. As we saw with the Methodists, they believe that the activity (though they perceive it as a social ill) really goes back to what God sees in an individual’s heart as motivation. With the LDS, it is a minor transgression that can lead to sin and the primary concern is that it is not a godly activity. Catholics admit that it can lead to sin, but don’t even seem to suggest that there is any reason that it should more often than not (and are the most tolerant).
Hell, even Jehovah’s Witnesses, who apparently are willing to kick someone out of the church for gambling, don’t go as far as to call it a sin. That said, I don’t think the Baptists would kick someone out of a church for doing it, but who knows? It might depend on the individual church.
As Jehovah Witnesses referred to the, “God of Chance,” the SBC suggests that those engaged in gambling are placing chance over God, though do not seem to go as far as suggesting that people are treating chance as if the concept were itself a God. As with most other faiths discussed so far, the SBC cites that gambling violates the concept of love of one’s neighbor, to such extent that for one person to win, another must lose.
Again, they say that gambling violates the principle of hard work and investment and instead seeks to gain wealth and get, “Something for nothing.” It’s interesting that they would specifically cite investment here as, as far as I know, the SBC is not adverse to people playing the stock market. In fact, the Southern Baptists appear to actually have their own investment firm.
Without getting too much into personal opinion, this seems strange to me as investing could be argued to be not that much different from gambling. The investment firm seems to indicate that they only take an interest in companies that they consider to be socially responsible, but fundamentally, the goal of investing is still the hope of financial gain and investing is done without returns being known ahead of time. More than that, it could be argued that a person putting funds in an investment firm (and letting the firm do all the work) is also seeking something for nothing. That doesn’t even touch upon the fact that, similar to casino-style means of gambling, the stock market has both winners and losers, so in order for one to gain, someone else often loses.
They do say this:
WHEREAS, Gambling violates the principle of the civil magistrate, causing governments to prey on their own citizens through state-sponsored gambling rather than protecting them and seeking their good (Proverbs 8:15–16; Amos 5:10–13; Romans 13:4; 1 Timothy 2:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–15); and
So, I guess they would agree with me that the lottery sucks, though I guess they might not be inclined to put it in specifically those terms.
The next few sections highlight greed, covetousness and poor stewardship, which agrees with a great many of the other denominations that we have discussed so far. The most liberal denomination on matters related to gambling (thus far), Catholicism, even allows for the possibility that an individual could fall into this sort of sin by way of gambling.
The final section that I will quote states:
WHEREAS, Gambling violates the principle of freedom, inciting destructive desires and enslaving many to habits that lead to financial ruin and broken relationships (Galatians 5:13–21); now, therefore, be it
Interestingly, pursuant to the resolutions, their biggest problem seems to be that of state-sponsored gambling, which is the one they seem to specifically want to see end. They do mention that they would like to, ‘Curtail,’ any means of, ‘Destructive gambling,’ but all of this together implies that they are fairly laissez-faire when it comes to individuals who are not Baptists gambling with one another.
However, it is always interesting to me when a church takes a direct stated position vis=-a-vis what the state (read: Government) should or should not do as, interpreted most liberally (as Thomas Jefferson seemed to do) the church and Government should have almost no relationship to one another whatsoever, or at least as little of one as possible, pursuant to the First Amendment.
In any event, we have arrived at our first denomination, which is really a sect of a denomination (though a major one) that specifically describes gambling, in and of itself, as a, ‘Sin.’ That would be the Southern Baptist Convention as the American Baptist Convention essentially says that gambling is everything but a sin, is highly likely to lead to sin, but would seem to stop just short of calling an individual act of gambling sinful.
We now turn our attention to the Protestants:
As we touched upon earlier, the Protestant Church was started in the Sixteenth Century, in Germany, by Martin Luther. There are a lot of weeds to get into there, but we are going to mostly avoid that and summarize that Luther broke off from the Catholic Church as he saw a great many problems with it and published his Ninety-Five Theses to directly state what he felt the problems with the Catholic Church were.
We’re obviously going to focus mostly on the gambling, but one of the bigger problems that Luther had with the Catholics that should be mentioned is the notion of Papal Supremacy, which is to say that he did not believe that the church should have any one ordained leader. The Catholic Church had also instituted a policy of “Selling plenary indulgences,” which were evidently certificates that could reduce an individual’s time in purgatory for sins committed.
Essentially, Luther believed that obtaining forgiveness for one’s sins was something that was more between an individual and God (that they must be legitimately remorseful and repent) than it was an act of contrition to be conducted between the individual and the church itself. In essence, Luther felt that it had gotten to the point where the Roman Catholic Church were all but playing the role of God themselves.
This might be considered as something of a, “Big Split,” as, broadly speaking, Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in the world (as it was then) and Protestantism is the second-largest.
Reverend Douglas J. Kuiper is/was a reverend for the Church of Christ, which is a Protestant offshoot, and also wrote something that he called, “The Sin of Gambling,” which can be found here:
The first part of the writing notes that it is not for the Church to directly influence matters of state (which the SBC, at a minimum, seems to disagree with), but acknowledges that congregants of the church are also citizens of their countries, and therefore, must take into account the teachings of the church in deciding their individual political positions.
This means that the church of Christ must stay above politics. That is, she ought not endorse a particular party or political candidate, and she ought not open her pulpits to politicians. Individual Christians must be concerned about political matters, for they are also citizens of an earthly kingdom. The church as an organization ought not, because she represents the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is not of this world (John 18:36).
However, because the truth that she preaches does bear on political and social issues, she may — and must set forth the truth of God's Word as it pertains to those issues.
One such issue is that of gambling. Gambling is prevalent in our society. And gambling is sin, when evaluated in light of God's Word. The church of Jesus Christ must condemn gambling.
It is worthy of note that Reverend Kuiper only appears to be speaking for his specific church, but the broader body of this writing seems meant to offer guidance to the faith more broadly, which we will get into shortly.
The first section of the body would seem to specify that his concerns, however, are more with the industry of gambling as a commercial enterprise (or as done by the Government) rather than with the question of an individual partaking in gambling as recreation, as seen here:
The gambling industry is immoral.
We begin our argument by noting that the gambling industry as such is immoral. By the gambling industry, we have in mind the organizations that sponsor and benefit from gambling. Those that sponsor gambling include casinos, lotteries, bingo parlors, and other places in which gambling is legally permitted. Those who benefit are Indian tribes or any other group which runs casinos; the state or federal government, which runs the lotteries; any churches which might sponsor the bingo games; any businesses or industries, such as car racing, which might sponsor gambling houses.
He agrees with me that The Lottery Sucks, but seems to also want to take a quick shot at other churches who conduct Bingo games, which often seem to be Catholic and Jewish churches…at least, in my experience.
He continues to emphasize the industry of gambling and would accuse the industry, or those who are offering the gambling, as being motivated primarily by greed. In terms of logic, casinos are definitely involved with gambling for the purpose of generating a profit, so his position is very tough to argue with on that particular point. He goes on to argue that the gambling industry does not provide a useful service or a sound product in return, but that’s where I think his argument is weakened a little bit.
For example, major casinos are not only social gathering places, but they provide other services beyond just the gambling: Many casinos are home to hotels, which can not reasonably be argued to not, in themselves, be a useful service. Additionally, many of the larger casinos offer a plethora of restaurants, and the largest casinos offer various shows, so it could be argued that, even if the gambling itself cannot be considered useful, those services are certainly such that they would generally be considered useful.
Beyond that, you get into the question of the fact that casinos employ people. With that, an easier argument to make would be that the gambling establishments, on balance, are negative in terms of social utility…but I think it’s much tougher to try to make the case that they have no social utility, or do not provide useful services, at all.
This is also the second document that I have uncovered (one of the earlier citations, though I didn’t mention it at the time) that directly references Tribal casinos. In my opinion, any discussion related to Tribal casinos is a strange one because, not only do I not know what the religions of the tribes may or may not be, but more importantly, the tribes are on sovereign land. In other words, I think it’s really a stretch for any church to think that they have any right to speak to what the tribes should or should not be doing.
In addressing the relationship of the state and churches to gambling he says:
Second, gambling is an improper way for the church or state to raise its funds. A government has the right to tax its citizens, and members of a country are required to pay taxes. Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). Paul, having emphasized the importance of civil government, and that government is the servant of God, commands under inspiration of the Spirit: "For this cause pay ye tribute also: ... Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor" (Romans 13:6-7). We see, then, that Scripture tells us that a government should raise its money by taxation! This is the right way, because it treats all citizens equally; every member of the country contributes to the support of that country. Taxation should also impress upon every member of the country the benefit that government is to us, and it should encourage responsible citizenship.
Also, a church should get its funds from its membership by freewill offerings. Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). In Old Testament Israel, a temple tax of one half a shekel for every person over twenty was required (Exodus 30:11ff.). The support of the ministry of the gospel (which is the fundamental work of the church) must come from those who benefit from that ministry, Paul taught the church of God in I Corinthians 9.
Okay, so I would say that the state part makes a reasonable argument for why every citizen should pay their taxes, but I think it is the weakest argument against state-sponsored gambling that we have seen so far. In effect, his entire argument would seem that he thinks it is better for a state to take monies from its people through involuntary transactions (taxation) as opposed to voluntary ones.
In other words, if states, for example, decided to abolish lotteries and instead chose to simply tax ALL of the citizens a hire percentage on direct, while he might not like the tax increase itself, it sounds like he would be fine with this arrangement as a matter of religious principle. In other words, if Caesar cannot get the money voluntarily, then Caesar (to use his quote) can simply declare that more money is owed unto him than was before…and that would somehow be okay, it seems.
The next argument speaks to churches offering gambling, which probably specifically relates to those who conduct Bingo. Once again, I think his argument here is terrible because he says that churches should get their funds from, “Free will,” offerings. What makes the argument terrible is that any net profits derived from the conduct of Bingo ARE free will offerings, unless, of course, he thinks the churches are forcing people to play Bingo.
He also makes a statement to the effect that the support of the church must come from those who benefit. However, even if we assume many Bingo participants are not members of the church, they are on church property to spend money on recreation that the church is providing—so how is it that they are not benefitting? The church is offering a consideration, namely, their facilities and prize considerations, to individuals who may not be members of the church, in a transaction that is both mutual and voluntary.
So, I have no idea what the problem with that is, unless he thinks that the churches are themselves greedy, covetous and driven by love of money over God.
Next, we get into his position that an organization (or state) offering gambling is actually engaged in theft:
Third, we can argue that they are essentially legalized thieves. Just as a thief takes and does not return, so these organizations take and do not return. The instances in which they return are the exception; most people leave without the money with which they came. The gambler is asked to spend money on something for which he gets no tangible benefit. That is stealing. Furthermore, just as a thief takes with force that which is not his, so the organizations use force. It is not physical force, but psychological force, using advertisements and other gimmicks to encourage people to part with their money.
Stealing, we know, is clearly forbidden by God's law. The eighth commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15). And every human being desires that none steal for stealing puts one's own possessions in jeopardy.
One might argue that gambling organizations are not guilty of stealing, because they take money with the consent of the owner. It is, of course, true that no one gambles unwillingly; therefore some of the responsibility for this falls on the gambler himself. This does not, however, absolve the organizations of guilt. If I run a scam, I cannot argue that people parted with their money willingly. It is still a scam, and a theft, for which I would be held liable. Or if I sell an item that is not worth the price I charged, I cannot explain it away by saying that the buyer paid me willingly. God still considers that stealing on my part. Proverbs 11:1 says, "A false balance is abomination to the LORD." The examples just offered are modern day equivalents of a false balance -- a way in which a man tries to get more money for an object than what it is worth. Because gambling organizations do this, they are guilty of theft.
In this instance, he does acknowledge the voluntary nature of the transaction towards the end, which is something that he didn’t do before. He then compares gambling to a scam, but I tend to think that he’s on really shaky ground there. With a scam, there is some promise of something followed by a willful and deliberate failure to deliver that thing, instead, keeping the money of the person that you scammed. Gambling is different because any gambling establishment would not seem to promise winnings, but rather, the possibility of winning.
That’s not to say that gambling is never a scam. For example, if someone encourages you to gamble with them knowing that they will keep your money if you lose, but refuse to pay you if you win, then that entity has engaged in a scam, but that’s typically not the case with casinos, state, tribes or…and especially not..churches having Bingo nights!
With that, I would strongly disagree with his conclusion that gambling is even tantamount to theft, but more than that, he flatly declares that gambling IS theft!
There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes, “In every bet, there is a fool and a thief,” but I think perhaps this writer took that too literally.
Seriously, he’s directly saying that if a person goes to a church for Bingo night, purchases Bingo cards, but does not win…that the church has committed theft upon the person who lost. I’m going to apologize if you think this statement ventures too far into subjective opinion, but I think that verbiage is objectively ridiculous.
The next section goes on to address the question of whether or not compulsive gambling is a sin. We are going to ignore that section as we have already established that every other denomination that we have discussed so far would consider compulsive gambling a sin. Even the Catholics, who seem to be the most liberal denomination (so far) when it comes to gambling suggest that a failure to be a good steward and provide for oneself and others is a sin, as is greed and as is covetousness.
In other words, the other denominations might not agree with the exact wording of the next section, but fundamentally, they would agree with the message behind it. For that reason, at least for those who are of the faith, I don’t think the question of compulsive gambling is a controversial one at all, so we move on top recreational gambling…which he also calls a sin.
Here are the opening paragraphs:
One attempt to defend it on the basis of Scripture is to point out that Scripture nowhere forbids gambling in so many words. Therefore, the argument goes, gambling falls under the realm of Christian liberty — we are free to do it, so long as we do not violate any of God's commands or scriptural principles. One who uses this argument may grant that compulsive gambling is wrong because it violates express commands regarding how to use our time and money, and that one's motive for gambling may be wrong (greed). However, the argument is, if one's motive is not wrong, and one gambles merely as a recreation, one does not sin. Some who use this argument seem to clinch it by reminding us that we must not add to God's Word (Revelation 22:18-19).
Another attempt to defend it is to point out so many other recreations in which much money is spent and nothing is gained. Is there really a difference between gambling and eating out? Between gambling and getting the best seat at the baseball park? Between gambling and a nice cruise in the Bahamas? In fact, the argument goes, recreational gambling is less expensive than some of these things.
As we can see, similar to the ABC from above, Reverend Kuiper hits upon the argument that they are not to add to God’s word. Actually, he’s just saying what the opposing argument is, which will be followed by offering his rebuttals, but his characterization of (one of) the opposing arguments seems to be fair, at least.
After that, he makes the same argument that it can be seen as a harmless form of entertainment (within limits) which is actually the argument that we did see on the page as it relates Catholics. It’s also similar to the position that the Methodist pastor took as it relates, “God knowing what is in your heart,” which is to say, while they are STRONGLY against gambling as an institution, there are cases in which an individual can gamble and it not be sinful.
That’s also a similar line to the one taken by the LDS, which is the first denomination that we described in this piece. That particular elder suggested that it would be better not to gamble, as God would not gamble, but stopped short of saying that gambling is always sinful. As with a few other denominations, or to some extent, all of them (who don’t think it is always a sin) his concern was mainly that gambling can foster sin.
Okay, so let’s see how Reverend Kuiper would rebut these arguments:
With regard to the first argument, we grant that we cannot find in Scripture a text that says, "Thou shalt not gamble." But Scripture need not tell us in so many words that a particular activity is a sin, for it to be sin. We are not necessarily guilty of adding to God's Word (which would be a terrible sin, indeed!) by calling sinful that which Scripture does not say in so many words is sinful. In interpreting Scripture and applying it to our lives, God's people ought to follow this sound rule, set forth in the Westminster Confession, I, 6: "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" [emphasis mine, DJK]. That is, in addition to giving us specific positive and negative commands, Scripture also gives us principles by which to live our life. All that is in accord with these principles is good, and all that violates them is bad.
When determining whether or not an activity is proper for a Christian, three principles must guide us. They are those set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 91: "But what are good works? Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory." (Cf. Romans 14:23, I Samuel 15:22, I Corinthians 10:31, for scriptural support of using these criteria in this manner.) If a particular activity violates God's express command, it is not proper. If it does not violate God's express command, but still cannot be done to God's glory or in manifestation of the faith that is in our hearts, it is still not proper. All three criteria must be met, in
order for the child of God to be convinced that he served God in this activity and that God was pleased with his service.
Therefore, even though Scripture nowhere gives an explicit condemnation of gambling, we may still evaluate recreational gambling as sinful, without being afraid that we are adding to Scripture, because we make this judgment on the basis of scriptural principles.
Okay, so his first argument would seem to speak to gambling being a sin in terms of principle. In essence, his argument is that the Bible does not specifically have to declare gambling, or by extension, anything else as sinful in order for it to be sinful.
However, Kuiper does admit that it goes to interpretation of the Bible, so some denominations might interpret it one way and some might interpret it another way. The major flaw that I see with him appealing to interpretation is this: Earlier in this essay, he has directly accused other churches of engaging in sinful activity, but his accusation is based on what he admits is an interpretation as opposed to the direct word of God.
With that in mind, it seems that he might be a little too quick to condemn those other churches as, in his words, having committed, ‘Theft.’ After that, he cites the Heidelberg Catechism, which is a document by which Protestants (specifically) are guided, so that’s kind of an appeal to what he perceives as his institution’s own authority. In other words, there are other denominations who wouldn’t particularly care about what the Heidelberg Catechism says about anything.
He then discusses whether or not an action brings glory to God, and now we have reached such a fundamental religious point that we’d really do well not to pursue this any further. The reason why is not my continued hesitancy to inject my own opinion into this, but rather, we’d have to get into questions of any number of mundane activities and whether or not they bring glory to God. I mean, if bringing glory to God in all you do is the bar that he’s going to set, then I can’t imagine that there are very many people who would clear that bar.
With that, the fundamental question is so far removed from the specific subject of gambling such as to be best abandoned, so we move on.
Further down, he states:
With regard to the second argument, we must remember that even if there are worse things a person could do than some particular activity, that does not mean the particular activity is not bad. One might argue that to rob a bank is worse than stealing a toy from the neighbor's backyard, but that does not justify stealing the toy from the neighbor's backyard. So here. Even if the argument were granted that it is a bigger waste of money to take a nice cruise, get the best seat in the ball park, or frequent expensive restaurants, than to spend money occasionally on a lottery ticket, or in the office football pool, that does not justify these acts of gambling.
However, we must remember one fundamental difference between infrequent recreational gambling and these other activities: the gambler gets no tangible benefit in return for his money, as one does who rents a seat at a ball park, or who buys a nice meal. The only benefit gambling is sure to give is intangible, namely, the hope of the thrill of winning. And this benefit is not proper for the child of God.
Okay, so this argument is already a really poor one to start with. I don’t think the argument that gambling is not a sin that was advanced stated that gambling is not, ‘As bad,’ as doing some other activity, so he starts this one off by building a total straw man and making a ridiculous argument against it. Is there anyone who thinks that stealing a toy from a kid is fine because it is not worse than robbing a bank? Essentially, all of the denominations that we have discussed so far (SBA aside) have suggested that gambling can merely lead to sin, such as greed, jealousy or covetousness. In other words, and even then, it is the greed that is a sin and the gambling caused the greed but the gambling was not, in and of itself, the sin.
Basically, he might as well be framing the position as,, “Well, if you are gambling, at least you are not breaking one of the Ten Commandments,” but that’s not the argument that he is supposed to be addressing at all. He’s supposed to be addressing the fact that other denominations consider gambling NOT to be a sin, not that they consider it a lesser sin than others.
I’ll give him the, “Tangible benefit,” argument as relates to the nice meal because I can see where the argument might be made. Okay, the meal might have been extremely expensive, but you walked in hungry and are no longer hungry, ergo, tangible benefit.
That being said, the ball park argument is ridiculous. What possible tangible benefit was derived from watching a baseball game as compared to recreational gambling? Is he suggesting that the baseball game (itself) filled the person’s stomach? Is he arguing that watching a baseball game is spiritually fulfilling? Does going and buying a ticket to a baseball game bring, “Glory to God,” as he suggests that all actions must do?
Quite frankly, other than the fact that one is significantly less likely to become addicted to attending baseball games, I can’t see what possible difference there is between the two when it comes to tangible benefit.
Also, money is tangible and can be used to purchase tangible benefits. If a person who is gambling wins, then they have enjoyed what is, in fact, THE only tangible potential benefit of gambling…leaving with more than you walked in with.
In short, I consider the entire tangible/intangible question ridiculous and, other than maybe the restaurant, his examples were a serious reach.
Anyway, the rest of it is basically just a reiteration of the previous and advice for those who are dealing with gambling in any way. You can read it if you want to, but I’m done with this piece.
Of course, Baptists are a branch of Protestants (though many just consider themselves Baptists), which is why I headed this section, “Other Protestants.” Others are Lutheran or Presbyterian, so there is no one, “Protestant Church.”
For the purposes of this page being educational, I just thought that it would be interesting to look at a specific church, so that we could illustrate how churches under the same umbrella (Protestant) might differ from one another in both message and intensity. With that, let’s see if we can find any official positions from the Lutherans or Presbyterians and we might call that, “Good enough,” to give an idea how Christian denominations look at it. Others will likely be some variation of any one of these things, but it seems that we have done at least enough to cover the full spectrum of Christian positions on this issue.
We have a few different sources to work with when it comes to the Lutheran Church, so the first one we will cite is the Lutheran Witness:
In the Gambling document, the Commission first observed that the Holy Scriptures do not specifically address the question of gambling. But this does not mean, the Commission stressed, that the Scriptures are silent about moral questions that arise in connection with the practice. The Bible does have much to say to those who are gambling or are thinking about engaging in the practice, and to those who promote it. The CTCR discusses in some detail, on the basis of scriptural teaching, six principles that speak to the potential dangers confronting those who engage in the practice of gambling promoted all around us. These are the principles (without the commentary in the report itself):
Gambling encourages the sins of greed and covetousness.
Gambling promotes the mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God.
Gambling undermines absolute reliance on God for His provision.
Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work.
Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.
Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor and militates against the common good.
The one area where these denominations seem to mostly agree is that the Bible did not seem to specifically address the question of gambling. With that, and much as with other denominations that we have already discussed, they go into a number (six) ways that gambling might result in sin, or perhaps, actually be a sinful activity.
As we can see from these six reasons, given our lengthy discourse as to the positions of other denominations, these six seem to be a combination of all of the potential downfalls that were cited by the other denominations. As far as I can tell, they have not added any to those that we have already touched upon here.
Ultimately, that short piece would conclude by just emphasizing that one explore one’s personal motives for gambling and make sure, essentially, that they are not any of those six things. With that, they would seem to share the Methodist view (as far as the individual is concerned) that it is mainly what is in the heart of the individual.
This two pager asks the question, “Is Gambling Entertainment or Sin,” and is brought to the discussion by Pastor Gregory L. Jackson and Word of God Lutheran.
In any case, he gets right into it:
Gambling is a sin because it is based upon gaining from another’s loss, in other
words, a sophisticated form of stealing. Gambling is also sinful because it is fueled by
coveting, which violates the Ten Commandments. Our confessions state: “For although
you go your way as if you had done no one any wrong, you have nevertheless injured
your neighbor; and if it is not called stealing and cheating, yet it is called coveting your
neighbor’s property, that is, aiming at possession of it….” Luther, Large Catechism,
Concordia Triglotta, p. 669.
As we can see, he would have really liked the previous pastor whose writing that we deeply analyzed. I would suggest that Jackson was also wise in keeping this really short as, having not even read it all yet, I would suggest that the brevity makes it tougher to poke holes in. Arguing ideas with contraideas is a tough thing to do, but poking holes in logic (as we did in the previous case) is easy.
In this case, the initial argument is that gambling is tantamount to stealing because one gains from the loss of another. However, I would argue that is true in the case of most financial transactions. In all instances, most people along the service/good process line get paid commensurate with their value added, otherwise, the company would fail to make a profit (if not selling for even more than that) and would go out of business. Furthermore, if all financial dealings are supposed to be mutually beneficial to the nth degree, then an item should not cost anything more than what it cost that item’s provider, otherwise, the provider wins and the purchaser loses.
Also, ‘Coveting,” is a term that could be used so generally that I’m not even going to touch it. Simply put, I can understand how offering a casino game with a house edge could be seen as coveting someone else’s money, however, I don’t see how wanting someone to buy something from you at a cost greater than the cost to you to get it to them is NOT coveting the other persons money. You could make an argument that the seller must also provide for their family, but at what point have they accomplished that and are not being motivated by greed? There really aren’t any hard stop points on this sort of thing, so I would say if gambling can be a sin for THAT reason, then so can just about any other form of commerce.
He proposes an interesting alternative to the lottery:
I have a worthwhile alternative to playing the lottery: Why not send $1 a week to
a truly orthodox Lutheran Seminary? Think of it as gambling, the way the sower
carelessly sows the seed in Mark 4. God will multiply the Word and He will bless the
money given to support future pastors. Think of it as entertainment. What greater joy
could one have than to help a student become a teacher or pastor?
See? Don’t play the lottery, where you might see a positive return. Better than that, send it to the Orthodox Lutheran Seminary by which you will at least be guaranteed a return-on-investment of -100%.
We will start with this page from the Othodox Presbyterian Church, citing Westminster Larger Catechism #142:
The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.
With that, they get into some talking points that we have already addressed and then, as with our kind Methodist pastor who spoke to me earlier, eventually circle around to the question of what is in a person’s heart when they are engaged in a gambling activity:
2. What is the motivation involved? The entire concept and attractiveness of instant wealth presumes an "inordinate affection of worldly goods." Whether admitted or not, the heart's sin that underlies much gambling is greed. The thrill of the Lottery is not whether a particular number is drawn, but whether I will become rich from it! Otherwise, I could just write down a number and save the price of a ticket. This is a great point from which to address your co-workers about their heart's condition before God.
While there is not an unequivocal answer to your question, there is clear teaching from God's Word which should help anyone in his or her particular conscience to decide what is right and best in the sight of God.
One final thought. You ask about "games of chance." Is there really such a thing? According to Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." God "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11). We are not told the details of God's decrees in Scripture, but we are told that we are to obey his preceptive will as summarized in the Ten Commandments.
Prior to that section, they got into the position that they see the Eighth Commandment as a prohibition on, “Wasteful Gambling,” but ultimately concede that it’s possible for some gambling, involving small consideration, not to be wasteful. However, they do point out, even if one accepts that as true, it is impossible to draw a hard line in order to determine what is wasteful and what is not.
The final paragraph quoted is an interesting one as it seems to argue that chance (therefore, probability) is not even really a question as God’s Will will decide what happens with the roll of the dice, spin of the Roulette wheel or whether or not the lottery numbers come up. Granted, that’s his position and he is free to hold it, but I would suggest that most of the other denominations and individuals who have been discussed would say that, other than the question of whether or not the person is sinning, an individual’s actual gambling results are immaterial to God!
Although, if you subscribe to this line of thinking, I guess you could blame God if you gamble and end up losing?
With that, we will move on to the Presbyterian Mission, which seems to be involved with Presbyterian Church U.S.A., here:
However, the church’s official stance on that page concludes with this:
In 2000, the General Assembly again reaffirmed its opposition to organized and institutional forms of gambling, and it called upon Presbyterians to refuse to participate in such gambling as a matter of faith and to join efforts to regulate, restrict and eventually eliminate these forms.(5)
Much as the Methodists (as an official body), it would seem that the Presbyterians are more concerned with the broader societal implications of organized gambling than they are with the questions of individuals doing it. That being said, they do encourage their congregants to avoid gambling and, while perhaps not as directly as some other religious institutions, call upon those same congregants to de facto oppose gambling as a matter of political interest. They didn’t exactly say that, but if you read between the lines, that’s definitely what they are saying.
The Tenth Presbyterian Church would seem to declare, directly, that gambling is a sin, but we are not going to quote from that page or get into any of the specifics here because it does not introduce any individual arguments or positions that we have not already covered.
With that, I would say that we have covered enough denominations that the full spectrum of Christian views on gambling has been sufficiently addressed. We will summarize by making a few overall statements, though we would encourage readers to understand that some denominations, or perhaps even individual churches and church leaders, may differ from these.
Catholicism is easily the most tolerant Christian denomination of the ones that we have discussed when it comes to gambling. While they do see that gambling can be a gateway to other sins, they are the only ones to specifically state that gambling can also serve as a harmless form of entertainment. After all, it’s hardly unusual for a Catholic church (though not all do) to have Bingo events that are open to the public.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints takes the position that they consider gambling, officially, to be a minor transgression. With that said, as with any other denomination, they do maintain that gambling can eventually lead to sins, such as greed. The main focus of the religious leader of the LDS to whom I spoke seems to be to pursue those actions which are godly, and he states that gambling is not, and therefore should be discouraged. While he did not maintain that gambling is an actual sin, he did say that it does nothing to further a person’s spiritual development, and provides no benefit, so should be avoided.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were interesting in that they specifically pointed out that there is nothing in the Bible that would make gambling a sin, but are so concerned that it might lead to sin that for a person to do it might lead to expulsion from the church! Of all of the denominations that we have looked into so far, it would seem that they are the only ones in which the church might actually directly sanction a person for participating in gambling.
That said, the Jehovah’s Witnesses take no political position on the matter because one foundational component of their church is to have no concern whatsoever with what they see as worldly affairs. In fact, though I don’t know if it’s still true, they were once strongly encouraged to all abstain from even voting!
The Methodist Church was the first one that we saw that focused on gambling more from a broader social position, particularly in official documentation, rather than being concerned with what individuals do or do not do. In fact, in any official church documents I could find, the actions of an individual vis-a-vis gambling, weren’t even addressed. THe official stance of the church, politically speaking, is they are against organized, institutional and state-sanctioned forms of gambling and would see it legally abolished in those contexts.
My conversation with a Methodist pastor was one in which, pursuant to his opinion, gambling is not, in and of itself, a sinful act by default…but is rather to be judged only by God by what is in the heart of the person doing the gambling. In other words, if the person is motivated by selfishness, covetousness or greed, then gambling is a sin…if the gambling is exclusively just being done as a form of entertainment, then it might not be. Once again, I was strongly encouraged to reiterate that these were his personal views and might not reflect those of the church.
The other churches discussed were, in one way or another, forms of Protestant churches. Even the Baptists are seen as a form of Protestantism, but in my experience, they just say that they are Baptists. In general terms, while the opinions of different segments and churches may vary, I think it is fair to say that Protestants see the act of an individual gambling as a sin. In any event, all Protestant denominations seem to be united in the fact that they would just as soon it be abolished on the state level or in any institutional form.
In fact, the American Baptist Churches is the lone Protestant offshoot (of the last several denominations covered) that would not go as far as to call gambling a sin of the individual in every instance. However, much like the other churches, they said that it could lead to sin or be motivated by sin. Put another way, gambling might be the means to the ends of committing some sort of sin.
The most extreme versions of Protestantism (as far as gambling is concerned) would either equate gambling to theft, or flatly declare that gambling is, in fact, stealing/theft.
As we expected, taken as a whole, Christianity cannot be said to have a stance on this matter as there are many denominations, committees and individual churches (within a particular denomination) that see things differently. We will also mention that Orthodox Churches generally seem to see gambling as a sin (such as the Greek Orthodox Church) though, as I said in the introduction, it would be impossible to try to specifically cover every single denomination.
With that, the time has come to move on to other religions.
We will next move on to Judaism, which overall seems to see gambling as something that a Rabbi would discourage, but not necessarily something that is condemned (for congregants) as a sin.
This Youtube channel: Ask the Rabbi (with Rabbi Mintz) makes the first logical argument that I have seen to the effect that gambling can sometimes result in stealing. Essentially, the Rabbi argues that any transaction in which one person takes money from another while the one having the money taken from him, under duress, is theft. For that reason, if two people make a bet and one of the two people loses (but doesn’t want to pay), then it could be seen as theft if the first person forces him to pay the gambling debt if he doesn’t want to.
The Rabbi is quick to specify that many gambling transactions are voluntary and would not be theft. For example, when placing a bet at something like Craps, once the player puts the money down, the Rabbi argues, the money no longer belongs to him. The result is that sort of transaction would not be seen as theft.
In any event, I think this Rabbi frames his position in such a way that he is presenting a logical position for why gambling could sometimes be seen, in the religious point of view, as stealing. This is much different that those Protestant-based ministers who tried to advance an argument that gambling is always theft/stealing.
Next, we will check out Google’s lead result for my search terms, My Jewish Learning, to hopefully get some insight from there. Apparently, the question of gambling only relates back to whether or not someone can serve as a witness, and even there, disagreements might be had. They have this, in part, to say:
According to one opinion in the Mishnah, the prohibition applies only in the case where the gambler has no other occupation — i.e. a professional gambler. Based on this view, the Talmud suggests that the reason such a person is barred from testifying is because they contribute nothing useful to the world. Another opinion suggests that gambling is a form of thievery, since the losing party to a bet gives up their money against their will. This rationale would suggest that even an occasional gambler cannot serve as a witness. However, this opinion is not universally accepted, since presumably both parties to a bet engage in the wager willingly and therefore accept upon themselves the possibility of loss.
In this event, as we can see, the Mishnah and the Talmud disagree with one another. Of course, this is nothing new as we couldn’t even find absolute agreement amongst all Protestants, much less all of Christianity.
One familiar argument that we see here is the same one that the Rabbi made vis-a-vis money being taken against a person’s will, so it’s interesting to see that one come up again.
Of course, you might wonder why gambling might exclude someone from being a witness. That source says that this professional gambler would contribute nothing useful to society, which according to this source:
How are valid witnesses determined? Maimonides, a 12th century Spanish and Egyptian commentator, discusses who qualifies as a witness in his Mishneh Torah Laws of Edut (Testimony). He states that ten types of people are invalid from being witnesses: women, slaves, minors, the insane, those who are deaf and mute, the blind, the wicked, idlers, relatives and those who have bias. Some of these categories make sense-I would not want someone who is partial to one side or who is legally insane to be a witness. Others can be very challenging for us-for example, excluding half the population from being a witness in a court of Jewish law.
In this case, they might suggest that, since being a professional gambler is not a socially useful (in their view) occupation, that such people may outright qualify as wicked, or in the alternative, might qualify as idlers, essentially, people who do nothing.
Also, it’s important to know that the word, “Witness,” is being used a little bit differently here than in the way that some Christian denominations would use it. The way those Christian denominations use the term, witnesses are tasked with going out into the world and preaching the word of God to others in order to try to lead them to salvation. In the Jewish faith, they are literally referring to acting as a witness in a court of Jewish law. Of course, I imagine many of the Christian faiths wouldn’t want professional gamblers attempting to act as a witness to prospective new congregants, either!
In the case of recreational gamblers, as we see from the first source, the question would ultimately boil down to whether or not the Jewish person in question would see the act of gambling as a form of thievery. If so, then the fact that they have stolen would make the person in question wicked, and as such, they could not be a witness. However, if the person you are asking does not see all forms of gambling as theft, then someone could gamble recreationally and not lose their ability to be a witness.
The first written source goes on to specify that the question of whether or not gambling is theft would extend to whether or not a particular person, or Rabbi, would see the activity as permissible within the religion:
The halachic permissibility of gambling rests on which of these is the reason for invalidating a gambler as a witness. If it’s merely because gambling is a frivolous pursuit, then the occasional bet may be permitted. If gambling is thievery, then it’s prohibited at all times, which is the view of some rabbinic authorities. In either case, compulsive or professional gambling would be forbidden.
So, once again, you have a situation where a faith ultimately disagrees with itself as to the fundamental question, so it really depends on which Rabbi you ask. If a Rabbi is inclined to always see gambling as one party stealing from the other party, then that Rabbi would say that gambling is, indeed, a sin. If, however, you had a Rabbi who saw recreational gambling as nothing more than a frivolous activity, then whilst he would not promote it or partake in it himself, he wouldn’t necessarily think that one of the faithful is committing a sin to do it sometimes.
This article then goes on to discuss which forms of gambling would or would not be allowed. As before, if you were talking to someone who always looks at gambling as stealing, then no gambling would be allowed. However, in instances where a player is trying to win money from a pool of money to be won, such as a raffle, lottery or casino, then it is the opinion of many Jewish people that no sin has taken place for someone to participate.
In fact, while the article mentions Jewish lotteries, I am also familiar with at least two tabernacles that used to host Bingo nights on certain nights of the week that there were no religious services going on. Once again, for some of the faithful, the fact that the transaction is voluntary (or can be) is a matter at play, and if they view it as so, then no theft has taken place.
Naturally, the Jewish faith (even those who are tolerant of recreational gambling, warn against the potential perils and pratfalls of gambling, with an urging of caution as relates the avoidance of compulsive gambling. Interestingly enough, the article points out that some holidays and fasting days were considered exceptions, not to make gambling unallowed on those days, but rather, to permit it:
Indeed, some understand the sheer volume of these efforts to suppress gambling, and the large number of exceptions to those rulings, as evidence of its popularity among Jews. Historically, the prohibition on gambling was relaxed on minor Jewish holidays like Hanukkah, Purim and the monthly sanctification of the new moon (Rosh Chodesh). Authorities in Bologna in the 15th century specifically permitted playing cards on fast days “in order to forget the pain, provided one wagers no more than one quattrino at a game per person.” Similar exceptions were made in medieval Europe on the occasions of weddings and births and on Christmas Eve, known in some Orthodox communities as “Nittel-Nacht.”
Of course, most of these exceptions are historical, so on a Rabbi to Rabbi basis, it would seem that the question of recreational gambling is largely a binary one based mostly on the particular Rabbi’s opinion of whether or not gambling always constitutes stealing.
Ultimately, that source concludes that gambling is always something that the faith is going to discourage, but whether or not it actually rises to the level of a sin really just depends on who you happen to ask, or perhaps, which specific location you happen to attend.
Our final source that we will look at for more guidance is that of Chabad.org. This site shares the perspective that gambling contributes nothing of value to the community, regardless of who wins or who loses. The rest of it largely mirrors what we have heard already:
In the Talmud,1 the rabbis take a dim view about gambling. Besides being a risky enterprise financially, and addictive, the rabbis say that the winner is really a loser. Morally speaking that is. How so? Because the fellow with the inferior hand wasn't expecting to lose. Therefore, the loser relinquishes his money reluctantly—it's being taken from him willy-nilly, and he is getting nothing tangible in return. In simple English, it's a bit like stealing.
As we can see here, this describes it as, “A bit like stealing,” whilst other Rabbis might argue that the winner is, in fact, stealing from the loser.
Of course, this entire argument seems to imply that the loser thought he was going to win. However, smart recreational gamblers who are not playing at an advantage will know that there is a House Edge, and should therefore know that they are mathematically expected to lose. It also seems to suggest that the money is being taken from the loser reluctantly, but frames that as if it is the case 100% of the time. In reality, the loser might not be reluctant to place the bet and is more than happy to pay in the event that his bet is a losing one, as a result, this specific argument is on shaky logical ground.
That’s why I liked the Rabbi’s answer in the Youtube video I linked to when I started this section. Essentially, that Rabbi said that gambling is tantamount to stealing if the loser is reluctant to relinquish the money, but if the loser is not reluctant, then it would not be stealing.
Of course, when it comes to the potential for committing a sin, almost all religions are going to generally categorically advise (other than Catholics, anyway) that the behavior in question is best avoided.
Actually, we will cite one more source here, as they provide some degree of differentiation as to what motivates the gambling from the points of view of the operator, as well as the player:
Gaming in the synagogue was not uncommon; a sharp contrast was drawn, however, between the usual forms of gambling and cases where the primary motive was not personal gain. A multitude of responsa cite instances where the winnings at games of chance were not considered fruits of sin (e.g., Resp. Maharam of Rothenburg, ed. Prague, no. 493). One of the clearest statements was made by Benjamin *Slonik who differentiated between gambling for private gain and that in which the winnings, even if only in part, went to charity. He saw no violation in the latter case and demanded full payment of gambling debts to charity. There were many instances where the rabbis and communities joined in games of chance. One rabbi ruled that he who wins at a lottery should pronounce the blessing She-Heḥeyanu; should one win together with a partner, one must also add the blessing ha-tov ve-ha-metiv (B. Levin, Shemen Sason (1904), 53 no. 27; see *Benedictions). It seems hardly likely that any blessing should be required if the winnings were considered the rewards of sinful acts. It would thus appear that Jewish law proscribes the professional and compulsive act of gambling; frowns severely and condemns the occasional act of gambling when indulged in for personal gain; while occasional gambling, where all or part of the winnings go to charity, has never aroused condemnation and frequently even has had the approval of the Jewish communities.
As far as we can tell, we should note that the Jewish faith always considers professional gambling a sin because they see it as taking up an occupation that contributes nothing useful to society. It does make one wonder whether or not they would look the same way at an advantage player who donates a large percentage of his or her net profits to charity, but none of the references listed in this section have made that distinction.
This one, however, makes a distinction between gambling for private gain and gambling for charitable purposes. As mentioned before, I have seen tabernacles that have offered Bingo nights (though I don’t know if they still do), so this most recent article would seem to address that. In short, it seems that still others would consider gambling fine if it is for charitable purposes. Perhaps some of those Rabbis who look at winning at gambling as stealing would even allow that it’s not possible for a charity to steal anything.
Interestingly, many of these questions focused on stealing all relate back to the situation when/if the person who lost at gambling does not want to pay. I haven’t seen anything in the Jewish faith that would suggest that the loser should not pay when he loses, just that the winner might be committing theft (depending on who you ask) in the event that the loser pays reluctantly.
As with Christianity, at least on the whole, we do not arrive at a single definitive answer. In fact, since Rabbi opinions can evidently differ as to the question of recreational gambling, I suppose it would ultimately be for a person to decide for themselves whether or not they think it is sinful. That said, the Jewish faith is very clear that they are adamantly opposed to someone gambling on a professional basis.
With that, we will turn our attention to Islam, which is the second-biggest religion in the world (to Christianity-general) by percentage. This is going to be interesting as this and the other two religions we will specifically discuss, Hinduism and Buddhism, are all religions that I know very close to nothing about to begin with.
If you don’t know anything about a religion, then I guess a website called Learn Religions would be a good place to go, and it seems that they have a section devoted to the question of gambling as relates Islam. Islam is often perceived, at least by those in the U.S.A., as one of the world’s more strict religions. While I don’t know if that is true or not overall (some fringe Christian sects seem quite strict in many ways), it would certainly seem that Islam is very clear that gambling is forbideden:
In Islam, gambling is not considered to be a simple game or frivolous pastime. The Quran often condemns gambling and alcohol together in the same verse, recognizing both as a social disease which is addictive and destroys personal and family lives.
“They ask you [Muhammad] concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.’… Thus does Allah Make clear to you His Signs, in order that you may consider” (Quran 2:219).
“O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows, are an abomination of Satan's handwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper” (Quran 5:90).
“Satan's plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer. Will you not then abstain?” (Quran 5:91).
As we can see, they lump alcohol and gambling into the same category, and condemn both without any room for doubt. Even with Christian faiths and alcohol, there are some denominations who look at the question more as being one of intoxication to the extent of being out of control (such that one would commit other sins), but don’t universally look at the mere consumption of any alcohol as a sin. Of course, views towards alcohol vary by denomination in Christianity; for example, the LDS would say that any consumption of alcohol is always a sin.
The final paragraph of this source is interesting in that it would seem to mirror the view of a great many of the Jewish Rabbis:
The general teaching in Islam is that all money is to be earned—through one’s own honest labor and thoughtful effort or knowledge. One cannot rely upon “luck” or chance to gain things that one doesn’t deserve to earn. Such schemes only benefit a minority of people, while luring the unsuspecting—often those who can least afford it—to spend great amounts of money on the slim chance of winning more. The practice is deceptive and unlawful in Islam.
If one didn’t know better, one might think that religions aren’t necessarily all THAT different from each other, you know?
Interestingly enough, it would seem that Islam would also look upon professional gambling as a sin, since they think that all gambling is a sin anyway, but professional gamblers are only successful at it by way of both thoughtful effort and knowledge. Unfortunately, what you end up with is that is still not enough as, in the religious point of view, they are contributing nothing useful to society.
The question of raffles is more open, according to this source, provided that the raffle is for a prize and no special consideration be paid to have a chance of winning the raffle. For example, if a raffle ticket is given for attending an event, then that is okay, as long as the person did not have to pay extra and is not attending the event out of a desire to be the winner of the raffle.
While this source doesn’t seem to leave much room for doubt, I think it’s important than we check and cite a few other sources before we make any declarations as to the absolute point of view of a particular religion. With that, we turn our attention to Al-Islam.
This source would not only condemn gambling as a sin, but more specifically, refers to it as the, “Fourteenth Greater Sin.” I reiterate that I know very close to nothing about Islam, but I certainly know enough to suggest that it doesn’t sound like they are in favor of it. Quoting a few captions from the source, we discover:
“Ithm al-kabir” means a very great sin. The Holy Qur’an has used this phrase only for drinking and gambling.”
The tradition related by Fazl Ibn Shazan from Imam ‘Ali al-Ridha’ (‘a) also included gambling among the Greater sins. Similarly, gambling is clearly mentioned as a Greater Sin in the tradition related by Amash from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a).
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have told Abu Basir:
“It is Haram to sell chess. It is Haram to spend the income of this sale. To keep chess (board and pieces) in ones possession is tantamount to kufr (disbelief). To play chess is equal to ascribing partners to Allah. It is a sin even to salute one who plays chess. One who touches it in order to play it, it is, as if he has contaminated his hands by touching pork.”
The same tradition is recorded in the book Man La Yahzarul Faqih with the addition inter alia that:
As we can see, not only does this source consider gambling to be a, “Very great sin,” but evidently, this particular designation is applied only to drinking and gambling.
This source goes on to say that Allah pardons all sinners during the month of Ramhadan, however, there are exceptions to that; Allah does not pardon drinkers or gamblers.
As we can tell, not only does Islam seem to consider gambling to be a sin, but they really mean it. Unlike the Bible, their religious texts would seem to very specifically point out that gambling is a sinful activity in the eyes of Allah. Interestingly, for some of the same reasons that some other Abrahamic faith leaders interpret gambling to be sinful, Islamic religious texts directly state that it is so for those reasons.
This source goes on to describe an interesting old-school gambling game by which a camel would be divided into twenty-eight pieces. After that, there would be ten arrows and ten players with so many pieces of the camel being allotted to certain arrows, whilst three arrows had no pieces of the camel allocated to them. The way that this game worked is that each of the ten players would get an arrow, then the three people who got the arrow with no part of the camel allocated to it not only got no camel, but also, the three of them had to pay the cost of the camel.
Additionally, that section was also quick to point out that gambling involves the gain of something in exchange for no work actually being done. It would seem that these various versions of the God of Abraham are very concerned that nobody get anything without doing work, except in those instances in which some moderate amount of recreational gambling is allowed.
The next section goes on to describe the fact that a losing gambler may feel hatred and enmity towards whoever the person, or entity, is that won the loser’s money:
It is common knowledge that a man loses his senses under the influence of alcohol and in this condition behaves in a most indiscreet manner. He is therefore bound to create enemies due to his shoddy behaviour. Drunkards are also known to murder their own family members and friends.
As far as gambling is concerned, enmity between the participants is the most natural outcome in a game of chance. The person who loses his money to his opponent is bound to resent him and have a feeling of vengeance and there is bound to be a winner and a loser. The dominating influence on the gamblers is that of hatred and enmity.
Once again, I think that sometimes these religious teachings talk about what could happen in a tone that would imply that it always does happen. Are there occasions in which someone gambles, loses a bunch and begins to hate the person or entity to whom they lost the money? Sure. However, I would tend not to think that is the normal state of affairs.
The next section goes on to imply the Islamic position that people are highly likely to become compulsive gamblers. Specifically, it suggests that the person who wins will want to continue that feeling of winning, and will also waste the money and will want to have more money to waste, so they will gamble more and wager larger in order to continue that. In contrast, it suggests that a loser at gambling will continue to gamble whatever they can in order to hopefully recover the money that they have lost.
Once again, it would seem that this is a religious position that presents what sometimes happens as if it is guaranteed to happen in every single instance. That being said, it has to be admitted that what they describe is indeed what happens in some instances.
Apparently, not only are Muslims not supposed to gamble, but they are not supposed to go anywhere near the instruments of gambling, even if they are not to be used for the purpose of gambling. The section that I will quote from, believe it or not, involves the game of chess:
There is a universal agreement among the Mujtahids that articles normally used in gambling should not be played with, even if one is not gambling. The tradition mentioned previously which states that one who touches chess is like one who smears his hand in pork; continues,
“The prayers of chess-players are not valid till they wash their hands after the game. And to watch a game of chess is like looking at the genitals of one’s own mother.”3
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) on being inquired concerning chess replied:
“Leave the preoccupations of the fire-worshippers to them.”
That is, Muslims should not even go near chess.
In another tradition, Imam (‘a) says:
“Do not even approach chess.”
The tradition from the book, Tohafful Uqul distinctly states that the articles employed in gambling cannot be used for any purpose whatsoever and it is Haram to do so.
“All the tools and actions of gambling are Haram.”
This is interesting to me because, street hustlers in big cities aside, I didn’t even know that betting on games of chess was a thing! It’s definitely not something that I have to worry about as I wouldn’t bet on myself to win a chess game against anyone. I guess I would be inclined to bet on my opponent, but that would probably be considered cheating. In fact, I’d probably be accused of deliberately throwing the game, even though I hadn’t, I’m just terrible at chess.
Of course, we can naturally infer that this would apply to other instruments of gambling, such as dominoes, backgammon, cards and dice. It doesn’t seem that playing chess or watching chess is a sin to quite the level that actually gambling is, but evidently, watching a game of chess is at least as bad as looking at your mother’s vagina…which I think both religious, agnostic and atheists alike can agree is pretty bad.
Furthermore, Islam (or this source, at least) goes on to suggest that the player can become obsessed with the card (or other) game to the extent that he forgets to engage in both of his work, or religious, responsiblities, even if that person is not gambling at the time. This source would even seem to say that if you start playing these games in a way that is not gambling, it will eventually turn into playing them for money.
Once again, and I hate to interject my own opinion here, but it sounds like this is discussing worst-case scenarios as if they are guaranteed to happen 100% of the time. On the other hand, I started off playing a video game called Caesars Palace for the Sega Genesis, and now I am a gambling writer, so it’s not as if I have done very much to prove their theory wrong!
For whatever reason, betting on horse racing and archery (if you are participating) is allowed:
It is undoubtedly permissible for participants (and not for spectators) in horse racing and archery to bet among themselves. The winner can rightfully own the amount he wins. Islam has permitted these two competitions because such sports contribute to the overall capabilities of a warrior, and a Muslim well versed in these is better equipped to challenge his adversaries. The details could be pursued in the books of legal rulings.
Shahid Thani in his book “Masalik” quotes the unanimous verdict of the Mujtahids. Three traditions are recorded in the book “Al-Wafi” from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) which state that except for horse racing and archery whenever a game is played for stakes, the angels are infuriated and curse the people who lay the bet.
That’s interesting because the motivation that would allow betting on those activities is that they, “Make a person better as a warrior.” If that’s true, then it does make one wonder why they couldn’t bet on things like MMA (if participating), shooting, fencing or any other sports that either directly involve combat or the tools of combat. It would seem that, if the ability to make one better as a warrior acts as an exception to not being able to gamble, then any activity that makes one better as a warrior would theoretically (or should) be allowed to be bet on by participants, but I guess not.
In fact, it would seem that Islam may look at other competitions as sinful even if they are not gambling and do not use any of the instruments of gambling, but according to this source, that specific might depend on who you consult:
Allama Hilli (r.a.) also states, “Competition of throwing stones with ones bare hands is not allowed. In the same way, racing any beast except horse and camel, yatching or racing of birds is not permitted even if a monetary bet is not involved. Cockfights and goat fights are also prohibited. In short, all those contests are prohibited that do not contribute usefully in the field ofJihad. For example, standing on foot for a long time, guessing games or number games, staying under water for a long time. In conclusion, except for horse racing and archery, no competition is permitted. Whether it involves a bet or not.”
Certain Jurists like Shahid Thani do not consider such games Haram where the tools of gambling are not used and where a bet is not involved. He is inclined to permit such competitions. This opinion appears to be valid especially for a contest where the Haram aspects of our religion are not compromised in any way or for a contest which has a specific aim like competition of calligraphy, reading, sewing, building, farming, etc. Athletics and boating can also be in the same category. But since most of the Mujtahids have prohibited all competitions except horse racing and archery, it is better to refrain from contests as a precautionary measure.
With that, it would seem that not only are horse racing and archery the only events that can be bet upon, but are also the only competition of any kind that is specifically allowed, at least, according to some adherents. It would seem that others would disagree and say that other types of competition are allowed, but given the tone of this writing, I would suggest that those might be in the minority, since the writing suggests refraining from all contests, except horse racing and archery, of course.
I’ve checked a few other sources, and they all seem consistent with those that you have read above. The short answer is, according to Islam, not only is gambling a sin, but it is a very major sin on level only with the consumption of alcohol, unless you are a participant in archery or horse racing and are betting on that competition with another participant.
Again, it is possible that Islam is not as categorically strict as some would make it out to be, but if their position on gambling is any indication, the religion just might be super strict.
We are going to start this one off by looking at Vedkabhed.com here. The question posed is whether or not gambling is a sin in Hinduism, so this seems like a really good place to start! Let’s quote a bit from their opening to get our feet wet:
The first thing that we will notice from these writings is that the concept of gambling has been around for a long time in the Hindu faith:
Gambling is a vice which leads to loss of one’s wealth, brings destruction to family and it also leads to various other evils. Gambling makes one believe in luck rather than hard work, people resort to gambling as a short cut way to gain wealth. But this evil has sanctions in the Hindu religion. Whenever we imagine Hinduism and Gambling the first thing that comes to our mind is the Mahabharata episode with Shakuni holding dice in his hand. Gambling in India is much older than the Mahabharata period, one can find mention of gambling in Vedas also. Agni Purana chapter 91 has a superstitious ritual of making gambling board and throwing dice to know the future.
As we can see, the fundamental position against gambling (belief in luck and easy money as opposed to work) is basically the same as that shared by almost all of the religions, Catholicism aside, that we have discussed so far. Even Catholicism allows that it could turn into that, but as opposed to some of the other religions, are basically open to recreational gambling and do not consider it as a sin in and of itself or even all that likely as being a gateway to sin.
If you want to hear more about religious figures engaged in gambling activities, then have a look at that website as that is the subject matter of the first several paragraphs.
One of the gods took one of the other gods for everything he had, including his clothes, on the night of Diwali, so went on to declare that only gambling on the night of Diwali is permitted, but if you do, you will have great earnings throughout the year:
Have you ever wondered why Hindus gambles during their festival Diwali? Well, to learn about it you need to look it up in their texts. It is said that gambling during the day of Diwali was started by Shiva and his wife Parvati. Parvati invoked Lakshmi before the game started who seems to have helped her win the game, Shiva lost everything he had and the last stake was that he should remove his clothes, Shiva lost the last bet too and denuded himself. Parvati then declared that it is auspicious to gamble on this Pratipad, and the person who gambles on this day would mint money throughout the year,
Skanda Purana Book II, Section IV, Chapter 10, verse 20 “Sankara and Bhavani played the game of dice by way of fun formerly. Sambhu was defeated by Gauri in the game and let off naked. For that reason Sankara became miserable while Gauri was ever happy.” Tr. G.V. Tagare.
I wonder if Shiva said, “Hey, don’t look at me like that, it’s cold in here!”?
Actually, I’m going to go as far as to recommend reading that page linked above. I certainly don’t know much about Hinduism, but it sure sounds like the stories about how all of their gods relate to one another are fun! I don’t think there are too many religions in which one god beats another at dice and then makes the latter god strip!
According to that website, it would appear that not only is the religion generally fine with gambling, but more than that, actually regulates the conduct of gambling, on occasion. About halfway down that page you can read, in part:
Some Hindu texts not just allows gambling but even legalises gambling houses and levies tax on it, the winner must also set aside a portion of the gains for the king. The gambling houses are regulated by the state and there must also be a superintendent of the gaming house supervising the game. In case there is a dispute between two parties, then either the superintendent or other gamblers must settle the dispute and in case if other gamblers are enemies of either party then the dispute is to be settled by the king. Some text says that the gamblers needs to take permission for gambling from the king, in case he plays without government’s permission then he is punished by the authority. There are also strict rules set by the authority, those who cheat in gambling are punished severely by the state and sometimes they are even banished from the state.
With that, it would seem that gambling is perfectly fine as long as you don’t cheat. Honestly, I’d have to say that this doesn’t surprise me as a great many Hindu people who I have met, at least the men, have gambled at one point or another. In fact, I would say a simple majority of the ones who I have met gamble. Furthermore, when you go into HIndi owned Asian grocery stores in my area, they almost always have some of the Pennsylvania Skill Games, which say, “Skill Games,” on them, but are effectively gambling.
Hinduism would go on to specify house edges of either ten percent, or five percent, depending on how much the gambler is betting. You can find this here:
Yajnavalkya Smriti Chapter II, Verses 199-203 “The keeper of a gambling-house shall take from a gambler five per cent. When the wager is a hundred [panas or upwards], and ten per cent, in other cases. Being well protected [by the king], he shall give the promised share [of his gains] to the king; he shall recover the wager, and pay it to the winner, [and] being over patient, [shall speak] the truth. [Payment of] that which has been won publicly in an assembly of gamesters in the presence of the master of a gaming house, and when the king’s share has been paid, shall be enforced, but not otherwise. The superintendents and witnesses in [gaming] transactions [should be] gamblers themselves. A man who plays with false dice, or by deceit, shall be branded and banished by the king. Gaming should be allowed under one supervision, as being a means of detecting thieves. This very law should be understood to apply in the case of Samahvaya [prize-fighting].” Tr. Vishwanath Narayan Mandlik
That’s pretty wild! It would seem that not only does the religion allow for gambling, but it also regulates how much the house is allowed to take from the players. It goes on to further state that the house itself should consist of gamblers and that all who cheat should be banished by the king! That’s pretty awesome. Granted, House Edges of five or ten percent might be extremely high, depending on the game, but at least there is some limit and cheating is not allowed.
If you would like to hop over to that page and continue to read the section, it basically consists of some of the other Hindu gods and goddesses chiming in with their perspective on gambling. Most say that it is allowed, and all of them seem to have strong aversions and penalties for anyone who cheats! It’s honestly pretty interesting stuff, and while I don’t think they will make a believer out of me, I might read some more about Hinduism (in general) for fun.
Depending on which of the Hindu gods you follow, if you want to win at gambling, evidently, you should just call upon them to help you:
It’s not just the Puranas and Shastra which gives these details. There are dedicated hymns in Atharva Veda to ensure success in gambling. Mostly the Apsaras were invoked during prayers for success in gambling. There are total number of 4 hymns with various other verses dedicated for ensuring success in gambling,
Atharva Veda 4.38.1-4 “Hither I call the Apsaras, victorious, who plays with skill, Her who comes freely fort to view, who wins the stakes in games of dice. Hither I call that Apsaras who scatters and who gathers up. The Apsaras who plays with skill and takes her winnings in the game. Dancing around us with the dice, winning the wager by her play. Hither I call that Apsaras, the joyous, the delightful one—Those nymphs who revel in the dice, who suffer grief and yield to wrath.” Tr. Ralph T.H. Griffith
Another English translation,
Atharva Veda 4.38.1-4 “The successful, victorious, skilfully gaming Apsarâ, that Apsarâ who makes the winnings in the game of dice, do I call hither. The skilfully gaming Apsarâ who sweeps and heaps up (the stakes), that Apsarâ who takes the winnings in the game of dice, do I call hither. May she, who dances about with the dice, when she takes the stakes from the game of dice, when she desires to win for us, obtain the advantage by (her) magic! May she come to us full of abundance! Let them not win this wealth of ours! The (Apsarâs) who rejoice in dice, who carry grief and wrath-that joyful and exulting Apsarâ, do I call hither.” Tr. Maurice Bloomfield
Maybe I will try this at the Craps Table one of these days! I wonder if anyone does say this prayer (probably under their breath) at the Craps Table, or perhaps, this only works with whatever specific dice game Apsara was so skillful at. Was Aspara a dice-influencer? Perhaps the only true dice influencer? Is this the secret of Golden Touch Craps that they won’t tell you until you pay for their lessons? (This entire paragraph is intended as a light-hearted joke)
If you would like to read more hymns, prayers and spells that you can put on the dice, or should you happen to be a casino operator, counterspells that you can use when one of your Hindu players does put a spell on your dice, or your Craps Table, then go to that website and check some of them out. I’d be really worried if I were a Table supervisor going up against a shooter with Apsara on his lips and a gleam in his eye, so you’re going to want to know what you need to do to counter that, for game protection.
I found some other sources, but they would be difficult to cite or quote as I relied heavily on Google Translate, so I also wouldn’t want to trust the translations to be exactly right. As far as I can tell, Hinduism (other than the really fun website above) generally would discourage gambling and is quick to mention what they perceive as the vils and potential downfalls that are associated with it, but at the same time, whether or not it is strictly forbidden basically seems to be a matter of interpretation and depends on who you ask.
That said, most of the sources that I have seen, assuming that the translations got it right, would seem to suggest that gambling during Diwali is fine. Some either sources, and I am again trusting a translation, suggest that gamblers are looked down upon, but at the same time, the Hindu texts do proscribe rules for the conduct of gambling, so at a minimum, they wouldn’t (at least, not generally) seek to totally illegalize gambling. As far as I can tell, they have little to no concern with what people who are not Hindu do.
We have reached the final religion that we will be covering for the purposes of this page as all of the other religions only have a few million adherents, or fewer. It’s not that I am not interested in the gambling stance of those religions, as I might do a follow-up page on some of them sometime, but this is already an extremely long page, so it seems best to just limit the question to the Earth’s most popular religions, for the time being.
For our first source, we will turn to The Zen Universe to see what their take is on the Buddhist attitude towards gambling. Whatever that attitude may be, it doesn’t seem like it would be very Zen to get angry about someone doing it, but I guess we will see:
The texts say that the religion recognizes three distinct classes or types of gambling, mainly recreational, habitual, and addictive. Again, this makes perfect sense and it enough to let us know the standpoint from which they evaluated this issue. Of course, recreational gambling is perfectly acceptable and fine under the philosophy of the Buddhist religion. This was the way most people gambled back in the day when Gautama came up with the first concept of his religion. Habitual gambling is also somewhat acceptable and not really a sin. However, addictive gambling is condemned, just like everywhere else, and it should be.
As we can see here, gambling would appear to only be a sin if one is a gambling addict. The one thing that interests me is that it would appear that, “Habitual,” gambling is fine, but gambling addiction is not. While I can understand that in theory, I’m not sure what the criteria is that they use to determine whether or not a person has crossed the line from one into the other. Perhaps reading further, or checking out some other sources, will illuminate this question.
Another article would suggest that, when looked at in light of Buddha’s other teachings, gambling is something that should not be encouraged. With that said, even that article admits that it doesn’t rise to the level of being a sin, or whatever the Buddhist equivalent of a sin might be. Unfortunately, it seems that the website linked will not allow me to copy/paste any of their captions, so I cannot share it. You can read it for yourself, if you wish.
With all of this looked at, let’s wrap it up with a quick summary from the strictest religious views as relates gambling to the most tolerant ones. For these purposes, I am going to lump Christianity into one broad category (second strictest), but then list sub-categories of the denominations that we have explored on this page.
Strictest to Most Lenient
Islam–Without a doubt, Islam is the strictest religion (of those we have discussed) when it comes to gambling as it is more than simply frowned upon, but rather, outright forbidden by their religious texts. These religious texts make only very specific exceptions for horse racing and archery contests, and only then, if the person doing the betting is also a participant in the contest.
More than that, the religion forbids actually using what are considered to be instruments associated with gambling to even play games in which no gambling is being done. In essence, the religion directly forbids playing poker just for fun, or even more than that, forbids using cards or poker chips even for any other game that does not involve betting. Effectively, playing Go Fish would seem to qualify as a sin.
Christianity–I am going to go ahead and put Christianity in second place, but it’s pretty close to Judaism as far as the overall viewpoint. Generally speaking, whether or not gambling is a sin goes directly to the denomination in question. With that, I will rank these denominations from most strict to least strict:
Jehovah Witnesses–-While they admit that the Bible does not specifically describe gambling as a sin, if what we have cited is to be believed, gambling could lead to one being excommunicated from the church. That seems like a pretty severe reprimand, especially because they do not consider it to be a sin. Even those Christian denominations who DO consider it sinful will not remove someone from the church, on the grounds that they have gambled, as far as I can tell.
Protestants (General): It would seem that many Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterian and Lutheran, consider gambling to be a sin.
Baptists: In the case of Baptists, whether or not gambling is an actual sin would seem to depend on which segment of Baptists, or perhaps individual church, that you ask. As far as I can tell, the two largest Baptist organized factions seem to be split on the question of whether or not gambling, in and of itself, is a sin.
Methodism: It appears that Methodists officially take the position that gambling is a societal and economical ill that should be outlawed. However, it does not seem that they go as far as to suggest that an individual engaged in recreational gambling is committing a sin. Their concerns seem to be more with state-sponsored gambling and gambling institutions (such as casinos) more than it is with the actions of an individual.
Mormons: Officially, it would seem that gambling is considered a, “Minor Transgression,” in this faith. In other words, it falls short of being a sin, but they do caution that gambling can easily lead one to sin, or in the alternative, may be done for sinful reasons.
Catholics: While Catholics readily acknowledge that gambling can lead to sin, they seem the least concerned about it and their attitude would lend one to the impression that recreational gambling, more likely than not, will not result in any serious problems or cause a person to sin. For this reason, I see them as the most lenient.
Judaism: Judaism is interesting in that it would seem to depend entirely on which Rabbi, or individual, you happen to ask. It seems that all of them would agree that professional gambling is a sin, on the grounds that the person is engaged in a profession that contributes nothing useful, but the faith would appear split on the question of occasional recreational gambling.
Hinduism: I’m really unsure where to put them because it’s a much tougher religion to get an absolute answer out of. In any event, it would appear that they specifically condone gambling, even encourage it, on one of their religious holidays, so there you have it.
Buddhism: Buddhists appear to be mostly concerned with their karma and the source that I couldn’t quote from worries that winning might result in the expenditure of too much, “Good karma,” especially if the person wins a lot of money. That said, whatever the Buddhist equivalent of a sin is, it would appear that they do not believe that recreational gambling rises to that level. It also doesn’t seem that the religion, on the whole, doesn’t do much to command that people either do or not do things, but rather, simply recommends taking one course of action as opposed to another.
We hope that readers have found this page interesting and educational and want to reiterate that we did our best to, at least most of the time, present these beliefs in an objective way.
Written by: Mission146