Statistics indicate that eighty percent of American adults gamble, and three to five percent of those struggle with a gambling addiction. In 2007, Americans lost more than $92 billion gambling (www.dailyfinance.com).
As with other addictions, those caught up in gambling often turn to crime in order to fund their habit. Government-sponsored gambling is often touted as an excellent income source, but it also comes at the great cost of dealing with associated crime, failed relationships, and treatment for the addicted.
Even without addiction, personal lives can be impacted negatively. Former lottery winners have said: “I wish I’d torn that ticket up . . . .” “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me” (TIME magazine, November 27, 2012).
All of this illustrates God’s Truth: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts . . . . [T]he love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
The counsel of God’s Word concerning gambling can be summarized with two simple words: stewardship and contentment.
Everything we have comes from the Lord (see James 1:17, Psalm 24:1, and so forth). We actually own nothing. We are stewards and caretakers of what is God’s. This applies to our talents and abilities, our earthly possessions, and the Gospel itself.
God gives us direction for our role as His managers: “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful”
(1 Corinthians 4:2). “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”
(1 Corinthians 10:31).
Statistically, the odds of eating an oyster and finding a pearl are one in twelve thousand; the odds of being struck by lightning are one in two million; the odds of winning a state-sponsored lottery are, at best, one in twelve million! Casinos, lotteries, and other forms of gambling do not exist to lose money. They make money at the expense of those who play the game. Is it faithful stewardship exercised for God’s glory to put His gifts on the line under these conditions?
Faithful stewardship involves more than whether gambling is a waste of money. The Apostle Paul writes: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
“Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
(1 Corinthians 10:24).
Some forms of gambling directly seek to take away what other gamblers are risking. In other cases it may be less direct. As children of God, we are called to look out for others’ interests, not exploit their weaknesses. Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism, “We are willingly
to leave [our neighbor] in possession of what is his own and . . . to promote his property interests as we would have him do to us.”
When national lottery jackpots climb higher and higher, the number of people buying tickets similarly skyrockets. One’s odds of winning don’t go up with the jackpot, so there is no logical reason to jump into the game when the payout is high rather than when it is lower. It is merely the allurement of more money than anyone could responsibly spend which draws additional players into the fray.
Lack of contentment in any form quickly leads to coveting—sinful desires for what God has not chosen to give to us. A desire for easy, work-free money in large amounts fuels a great deal of gambling. One-third of people in the United States think winning the lottery is the only way to become financially secure in life
(www.webmath.com). Even when the jackpot is pennies, if you were to take the potential for “making” money out of the equation, would the game be just as much fun?
As we evaluate gambling in the light of God’s Word, getting caught up in the amount that is being risked is a distraction. The number of dollars risked in gambling matters in terms of potential loss; but the question of gambling is a matter of the heart, even when the number is small.
Questions to ask our hearts are: Am I “desiring to be rich” when God hasn’t seen fit to bless me in that way? Am I desiring to have gain without labor? (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Am I content with what God has given me? Am I a faithful steward with what He has given me in resources, time, and ability? When we examine our hearts and seek the answers to these questions in the light of God’s Word, we will also find our answer to the question of gambling.
God’s Word has more to offer on this topic. Your pastor is called as your spiritual shepherd and will be happy to study and apply Scripture with you in these matters.
Wayne Eichstadt is associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minnesota.