A BAD BET
• Does God Oppose Gambling? • Is Gambling Sin? • What Does the Bible Say? Dr. Russell K. Tardo According to St. Augustine, “The devil invented gambling.” Whether or not one accepts Augustine’s conviction, gambling has been around for thousands of years. Augustus Caesar is said to have sponsored the first known public lottery in order to raise funds to repair the city of Rome. The Bible records that Roman soldiers gambled for the garments of Christ (Matthew 27:35), an action predicted in the Old Testament (Psalm 22:18). In the latter eighteenth century, lottery proceeds helped to fortify Colonial America against the British. But if the history of its use is long, so is that of its misuse. Loaded dice were found in the ruins of ancient Pompeii. Corruption, it seems, is the inevitable bedfellow of gambling. Corruption notwithstanding, various polls and studies have revealed that, in some form or another, gambling is practiced or endorsed by the majority of Americans. One reliable estimate is that 80 percent of adults gamble at least occasionally. Other estimates range from two-thirds of the population up to 88 percent.1 Obviously, this indicates that many Christians, too, are playing the office football pool, the lottery, bingo, slots, poker, horses, etc., and have invested some percentage of the 329 billion dollars gambled in the United States in 1992. What is Gambling? By definition, it is to bet money on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event. It means to play a game of chance for money or other stakes. It is further defined as wagering money, or something of value, on an uncertain event whose outcome is dependent either wholly on chance or partly on chance and partly on skill. However one defines or assesses gambling, one thread runs throughout its entire fabric⎯from the friendly Saturday night card game to the social club bingo to the full blown casino⎯the gains of the winners are made at the expense of the losers, and the gain is secured without rendering its equivalent either in service or in value. Thus, if a game of chance was played solely for amusement, it is not gambling. It only becomes gambling when money or valuables are wagered. But in order for one to win, another must lose. And in gambling, losers always far outnumber winners. So the three elements involved in the gambling equation are: 1) the betting of money or valuables; 2) the determination of the winner by luck, chance, or uncertain events; and 3) winners profiting at the expense of the losers.
Gambling and Discipleship Traditionally, Christians have held three different views on the subject of gambling: 1) The Roman Catholic view does not condemn gambling on a small scale. The danger lies in its excess. They consider small wagers, bingos, friendly bets, and raffles for worthy causes as amusements that inflict no hardship on those who participate. In fact, in many communities, Roman Catholic church-sponsored gambling, bingos, raffles, Las Vegas Nights, etc., are common occurrences. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, people are entitled to gamble as long as they do not render themselves incapable of fulfilling duties incumbent upon them by reason of justice or charity. The problems with this view surface in the following letter to U.S. Catholic magazine: “The Catholic Church has taught me to gamble. Bingo and raffles are absolutely no different from lotteries. If the Catholic Church would take the lead and stop gambling, I would reconsider the idea of playing the lottery. If I am greedy, it is because it’s almost a sacrament in the Church.”2 2) The mainline denominational view, while not holding church-sponsored raffles or bingos or putting their official “sanction” on gambling, does not attach any great harm in it, either, if practiced in moderation. This segment of Christianity would, however, most likely oppose its legislation on a major scale. 3) The biblical view denounces gambling as a moral evil on any...
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