Gambling and My Neighbor

Certainly, not every branch of Christianity takes a dim view of gambling, but some have. I belong to a segment of Christendom that has historically opposed gambling. Here, I simply want to offer a brief case, from a Christian perspective, against gambling. My hope is that professing believers will give this argument a fair hearing.

First, we need to get some handle on what we mean by gambling. Too often, discussions about the morality of gambling are sidetracked because the essential nature of gambling is misunderstood.

Gambling is not primarily about risk. All of life is full of risk, and so it makes no sense to oppose gambling simply because it involves uncertainty.

Further, gambling is not wrong merely because it is motivated by profit. It is no sin to acquire wealth, particularly from honest labor. A person who begins a business risks his capital to buy tools and stock and hopes to turn that capital into greater profit. In and of itself, there is nothing morally questionable about this. Indeed, the book of Proverbs encourages just this kind of industriousness.

What separates gambling from other activities is this: when we gamble, we hope to make a financial gain at the expense of another person. That is to say, gambling is a violation of Jesus’s command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In gambling, we can only profit if someone else is harmed. This is a lack of love.

Paul gives us a striking description of the generous heart of a Christian: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Christian love provokes us to work hard, to turn a profit, so that we might share with others. Seeking gain through gambling turns this instruction on its head.

We can illustrate the point by comparing gambling to investing in a stock. Both gambling and stocks involve risk with the hope of financial reward. But if my stock goes up, it doesn’t at all demand that your stock sinks. The stock market as a whole can increase in value. My profit does not demand your loss.

And in normal business, my hope of financial profit is not at the expense of my neighbor. Rather, I give a customer something of value, whether a product or a service, in exchange for his money. My hope for a profit and my love for my neighbor exist simultaneously.

By contrast, with gambling, if I win, I only gain because I’ve removed money from someone else’s pocket, giving him nothing of value in return. And this remains true even if my winnings come from a casino or the government lottery. The prizes offered by governments and casinos are directly funded by those who played and lost. In every case, that money that I hope to win has come from my neighbor’s pocket. My hope of winning inevitably demands a hope that ill would come to someone else, even if I would never say so.

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).