It is estimated that Americans lost $161 billion to all forms of gambling in 2018, with $306 million of that going to online gambling.1Ultimate USA Gambling Facts & Revenue (Updated 2022), www.onlineunitedstatescasinos.com/usa-gambling-facts/ While this amount is for all types of gambling, the fastest growing kind of gambling is online. Online gambling has been increasing each year, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that gain. As brick-and-mortar gambling sites saw a decrease in activity, online gambling venues took up the slack. Often, people turned to online gambling during the pandemic for entertainment during long days and nights of being stuck indoors. This created the perfect storm for gambling on the 2022 Super Bowl. It is estimated that 31 million people bet more than $7.6 billion on Super Bowl LVI, an increase of 35% over 2021.2Erich Richter, Superbowl Odds 2023: Live Sportsbook Odds, March 2, 2022, www.bonus.com/odds/super-bowl/
With 71% of Americans believing that gambling is morally acceptable, and only 36% of Christians believing that sports betting is morally wrong, it is clear that America has a gambling problem.3Lisa Cannon Green, Is sports gambling moral? You bet, Americans say, January 22, 2016, www. News.lifeway.com/2016/01/22/ is-sports-gambling-moral-you-bet-americans-say. It isn’t only sports betting online that is exploding. The internet offers practically any kind of gambling that someone could desire.
The internet has certain built-in features that make gambling more dangerous for people, too. Gambling is available 24/7 to anyone with a computer and an internet connection in their homes, which is more than 77% of Americans, or more than 250 million people.4Catherine McNally, Nearly 1 in 4 Households Don’t Have Internet—and a Quarter Million Still Use Dial-Up, August 17, 2021, www.reviews.org/internet-service/how-many-us-households-are-without-internet-connection. In addition, anyone who wants to gamble can easily circumvent age requirements by lying about their age. The fact that people can gamble in the privacy of their homes increases the likelihood that they will gamble more often and for longer periods of time. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to restrict access to online gambling for people who know they have a gambling problem.
Regrettably, most governments have succumbed to the constant barrage of gambling lobbying and voter initiatives. The vast majority of Americans can buy lottery tickets, play the standard forms of brick-and-mortar gambling like poker, roulette, and even slots, and bet on multiple sporting events all from the privacy and anonymity of their home computer screens.
While we can’t prevent people from accessing these myriad gambling opportunities, we can help them understand that God has a better way. This should be especially true for Christians. We who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord have committed to live faithful lives before him and the world. We must look to God’s Word for guidance in all things, including whether or not to gamble, and why.
Getting to the heart of gambling
To know what the Bible has to say about gambling, it can be helpful to know why people gamble and then look at what Scripture has to say about that. People gamble for a variety of reasons, but regardless of the reason, the Bible points to a better way. Below are the principal reasons that people gamble and the Bible’s better answer to the need they are trying to meet with their gambling.
Some people gamble to get money. This is the primary reason most people gamble. It is a demonstrable fact that more people gamble as the jackpot increases or they place a high value on the prize. The Christian who gambles in order to win money has failed to understand or accept that God desires to be their provider. Scripture says God will supply all the needs of the person who puts his trust in God (Matt. 10:31; Phil. 4:19). The person who gambles out of greed or for worldly wealth is valuing the wrong thing (Luke 12:15). The person who gambles out of financial desperation is trusting in the wrong source for his need. Even if he wins enough to escape his destitution, which is highly unlikely, he has chosen to reject God’s way to meet his needs (Matt. 6:33).
Some people gamble for entertainment. This is another primary reason people gamble. People will often gamble online because they are bored or they are looking for a distraction. And some people argue that gambling is just a form of entertainment, like going to a movie or a restaurant, but that is not true. No one will lose all of his retirement savings by visiting a restaurant or going to a movie, but some people will lose that and more from gambling. Christians need to consider what they are supporting and empowering when they spend their God-provided money. God calls Christians to be good stewards of their possessions, that includes their money (Luke 6:10-13). When we empower gambling venues with our money, we help keep them in business to prey on people with gambling addictions. Empowering institutions that ruin people’s lives for a few moments of entertainment is not something that Christians should take part in (Eph. 5:11).
Some people gamble to feel important or special. Casinos, whether brick-and-mortar or online, specialize in selling an illusion to people. They make them feel important in exchange for their money. Some people crave this attention and return over and over because it feeds their sense of importance and value. Any anything we rely upon apart from the Lord for our value is an idol (Psa. 135:18). The Bible tells us that God is best able to tell us of our worth and importance. Jesus can give a person a permanent realization of her worth. We are so loved by God that he sent Jesus to die a gruesome death on a cross in order to redeem us for himself (John 3:16). Through Jesus, the Christian is a child of God. That is a permanent status that should see any Christian through feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt (2 Tim. 2:13).
Some people gamble to compete against others. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition. However, when that competition threatens to destroy another person, it is no longer healthy. The Bible reminds us that we are our brother’s keeper and that we should love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). We have a responsibility to look out for each other. Gambling encourages the exact opposite. The only money available through gambling is the money that someone else has lost. Neighbor love calls on Christians to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves (Mark 12:31; Phil. 2:3). Gambling makes us predators rather than protectors.
Some people gamble for the thrill. Again, there is nothing in the Bible that tells us to live boring, uneventful lives. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would have joyful, meaningful lives through faith in him (John 10:10). The question that a thrill-seeking gambler needs to ask is whether or not the thrill of gambling is the best source of joy, happiness, excitement, or meaning. Gambling’s thrill often comes at someone else’s expense. Your involvement can perpetuate the predatory nature of the gambling industry. And while the thrill of gambling might last for a few seconds, in the end it is replaced by disappointment. If a person wins, it will not satisfy the longings of her soul (Eccl. 5:10). If a person loses, which he almost always does, he is left with emptiness and a potentially significant loss of resources. When the thrill is placed in the prospect of winning and the result is the opposite, that is a sucker’s bet. Jesus offers true and lasting joy (John 15:11).
Some people gamble to escape their problems. Gambling offers escape for a short while. In the end, however, it adds to people’s problems. Once gambling’s distraction is gone, the person’s problems remain and are compounded by the loss of money, which may very well be a principal reason the person was seeking a distraction in the first place. Jesus called on people to admit their problems and place them on him, not run from them (Matt. 11:28-30). The Apostle Peter wrote that Christians can place all their cares on the Lord because he cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7). Christianity encourages people to acknowledge their problems and sins and turn to God for help with them. He is ready and able to help those who admit their need and seek him. Anything else we run to for help will fall short.
Some people gamble to feel hopeful. It is hard to carry on when hope is lost. Gambling offers a temporary hope that seldom rewards the person who leans on it. Until the ball falls in the slot on the roulette wheel or the last card is turned over, the gambler feels all the hope in the world. Anything is possible in that moment, but then all that hope is dashed and even greater fear and hopelessness rushes in. God, on the other hand, is the God of second chances. He has demonstrated in the Bible and in countless lives all around us that those who put their trust in him will never be disappointed or hopeless (Rom. 15:4). God is greater than any problem someone might have and greater than any obstacle that stands in their way (Phil. 4:19).
Whether someone is gambling online or at a casino,, the Bible makes it clear that any activity that replaces trust in God with luck dethrones God in that person’s life. God ordained work as our means of support. From the beginning, when God put our original parents in the Garden, he revealed that he designed us to work (Gen. 2:15) as a means of his provision for us. Gambling perverts that design and promises something for nothing. That promise is as empty as the serpent’s first deception. Luck is the sand that will not support a life. God is the rock that will (Matt. 7:24-27).
There is more to be said about gambling, yet regardless of why someone gambles, God is the better choice. Gambling is a false idol. It destroys, perverts, and lies to people who look to it for anything. The true source of happiness and meaning in life is found in God. He alone can deliver what he promises. He alone is dependable and trustworthy. We must all learn to trust him and place our hope and futures in him. When we do that, we will never be disappointed. May Jesus be Lord in our lives.