Gambling and Religion

What is gambling?

Merriam-Webster defines the word “gamble” to mean, “to play a game in which you can win or lose money or possessions: to bet money or other valuable things.” For instance, if you bet on the next card in a deck of cards being a ten of clubs by putting up a dollar and someone matches that bet, then if you are right, you get two dollars. If you are wrong, you lose your dollar. That is a bet. That is gambling.

It also states that gambling is anytime you risk something valuable to get something else. Imagine watching the girl or guy of your dreams is about to walk out of the room. You can’t get to them in time, so the only way to declare your love and win their heart is to yell it to them over the crowd. You are scared of embarrassment, but you decide to chance it. You are risking being embarrassed to win over your true love.

Both of those are good definitions and examples of gambling. For our purposes we will be focusing on the first definition. However, the second definition cannot be ignored if we want to cover the morality of gambling.

What does the Christian Bible say about gambling?

There has been a lot of talk about gambling in Christian society. Christians are usually against gambling because of the hardship it can create for a family. But does the Bible say anything about gambling? It does not, at least not specifically. The Bible does warn against the love of money. And in Proverbs 13:11 it warns that money gained quickly will dwindle.

The Bible does talk about “casting lots” such as when the disciples were looking for a replacement for Judas. However, it does not provide an opinion or guidance on the matter. Modern Christians believe casinos to be a way of stealing money from the poor and providing for the rich. When looking at gambling from their point of view, gambling money is dishonest money, and therefore an affront to God.

But again, the Bible does not specifically condone or criticize gambling. However, it does state that anything in excess can be a bad thing. So gambling too much money or too often can be a problem, not necessarily a moral one, but more of a survival problem. For instance, it would not be a good idea to gamble away an entire paycheck. But setting aside a small portion for gambling and entertainment purposes, and sticking to that, should be just fine.

Out of curiosity, what is “casting lots?”

There are actually two very different terms for casting lots. One is sortition and is used to make a decision, kind of like flipping a coin. The other still involves sortition but is called cleromancy and deals with using the casting of lots to divine some meaning or future event.

The actual act of casting lots may be mentioned often in the Bible, but the exact details of what that entailed do not exist. But modern day equivalents are things like the previously mentioned coin flipping or the previously unmentioned dice rolling.

In the Bible, casting lots was used often to determine God’s will. Land was divided, guilty parties were found and the disciples found a replacement all by casting lots. It is even mentioned as a game when the soldiers were casting lots for the clothes Jesus wore.

So, yes, “casting lots” is a form of gambling, and was used as a tool to make decisions throughout the Bible because the outcome would always be “God’s will.” But, this was in the Old Testament. There is no mention of casting lots in the New Testament, which is the portion of the Bible meant to be followed by modern Christians.

What does the Jewish Talmud say about gambling?

The Talmud is a little more clear about gambling than the Christian Bible. Morally, a person who wins any given bet, according to the Talmud, is doing wrong. Jewish beliefs tend towards the feeling that anytime money changes hands there needs to be value exchanged.

For example, if a television is purchased, the person receiving the television has received value for the money they have given to the shop owner. However, when it comes to gambling, the person who wins the bet is taking money from the person who loses the bet. The person who loses the bet gets nothing of value in return, and therefore the exchange of money is an immoral one.

Also, Jewish laws believe that money earned through gambling is empty money. When a person fixes a car and receives money for doing so, they are contributing to society by providing a service that the community needs. But simply winning money through gambling does not actually provide any kind of necessary service.

So Jewish law tells us that winning at gambling is kind of like stealing. It also states that it is a useless or empty form of income. However, on to the next question.

Sounds like Jewish law is against gambling. Is there any time when it is right?

There may not be any time it is considered right, but there are times it is allowed. Although there are Rabbis who believe that any kind of gambling is wrong because the winner is stealing from the loser, there are Rabbis that believe that as long as gambling is not the only profession of the person, that it is perfectly ok to do so. Technically, the law agrees with them. So playing cards for money as a form of entertainment is technically allowed.

One of the biggest money raising traditions in Jewish culture is the raffle. Purchasing a raffle ticket is the same thing as playing the lottery. You are spending some money for a chance at winning something of greater value. This is a form of gambling that is readily accepted as a way to raise money for charity and the like.

Like any other religious views, there are many different interpretations of the laws and rules. What is perfectly fine with one Rabbi might be a deadly sin with another. It is hard to find any organization that completely agrees about every rule and law.

What does the Islamic Qur’an say about gambling?

The Qur’an is even more specific than the Jewish Talmud:

“They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.'”

Gambling is considered to be the fourteenth of the Greater Sins. It would be hard to find a religious text that is more direct than that one. The Qur’an does not like gambling. Any games of chance are considered a sin. For example, even owning a chess set is considered sacrilegious to some Arabs. This means that card games, board games, dice games and many other games are off limits to the people of Islam.

Islam also has a similar view on gambling that the Jewish do: It is an empty form of income. The winner does no work whatsoever, yet they raise their own status versus the person they took the money from. And the loser actually has his status lowered for no good reason. This seems to be a common theme among the religions. People should not get money for nothing. They should have to work just like everyone else to receive their money.

Does that mean Arabs do not gamble?

No. Gambling has been around for many years in Arab society. For example, they used to take wooden sticks and mark them with a certain number of shares. These shares were how the particular item would be divided amongst the people partaking in the gamble, such as when a camel was slaughtered. The people would check their sticks and find out how many of the shares they were going to get. All of them had provided money for the camel equally. But some of the sticks even had no markings, meaning that a person who put money in for the camel, but got an empty stick, would end up with no shares of the camel.

In the United States, gambling large amounts of money is considered to be an advantage of being wealthy and a way of flaunting that money to others. Arabs were no different. They took pride in being able to gamble and they would even flaunt the money even more by giving their winnings away to the poor publicly.

Even today, Arabs still gamble. They spend money on lottery tickets. They set aside a budget for casinos. They pay an entry fee for a crossword puzzle game. Islam teaches against gambling, but probably for the same reason every other religion does: preservation.

Religion, Culture, Gambling?