Many people who enjoy recreational gambling find themselves concerned about what their religion says about gambling – whether it is considered to be a sin, or forbidden, or whether their religion views it the same way that they do – as an essentially harmless bit of fun. Now, naturally gambling is not always harmless and it can cause significant financial problems if it is done compulsively and not sensibly. But many time it is done responsibly and just for a bit of fun and in the hope of winning a bit of extra money – what does religion say about this?
This is a very complicated question. Obviously there are a huge number of different religions, and while they agree on some things, on the whole they have different positions on many things – sometimes hugely different positions, and sometimes positions that are mostly the same (though the religions in question may consider a very small difference to be very important). Below we outline the positions on gambling of a few major religions – there’s just no way we can canvass all the positions of all the religions. If you are curious about what a particular religion says about gambling and it is not listed below, we suggest you do some googling and check it out yourself.
Not being Christians ourselves, or being religious at all really, we consulted Steven Marrel of of the Christian Centre for Curiosity for Christianity’s position on gambling. Steven Marrel is a graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary with a M.A. in Apologetics. We asked him what the bible says about gambling. We have paraphrased his response below.
The bible doesn’t specifically mention gambling for money. In fact, it does not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of things that you are not allowed to do – this is not the purpose of the bible. The purpose of the bible is to draw people toward God. The important thing to do when one finds oneself questioning the morality of ones behaviour, asking “Hmm, I wonder if it is okay for me to…”, is to examine ones motives. The Bible says that while Man looks at outward behaviours and appearances, God looks at our hearts (Samuel 16:7). If our outward behaviour is bad, it is not simply because the behaviour itself is bad, but it is because our hearts are bad (Mark 7:21-23).
Although there are no specific prohibitions or approvals of gambling in the bible, there are other things which can be extrapolated to maybe cover gambling. Matthew (6:19-21) says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Brad explains that your motiives for gambling are what are important – as with all acts: it is the motive that matters. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to gamble?” Do I want to gamble simply to make lots of money for myself so that I can be rich and buy lots of things and get the respect and envy of my friends and neighbours? Do I wish to make extra money simply to provide for my needs and the needs of my family? Do I wish to gamble because I enjoy the thrill and the excitement, and am only looking for entertainment? Ecclesiastes 5:10 says that “Whoever loves money never has money enough”, and this is a good thing to remember.
Whoever asks himself or herself that question must decide for themselves if their motive is pure. And this goes not just for gambling but for anything – spending money on gadgets or expensive holidays, or even making charitable donations. Even good deeds can be inspired by bad motives. Jeremiah says that the human heart is horribly deceptive (17:9). If we do out very best to keep our motives pure, and be honest with ourselves, then this is the way to live as a good Christian.
Thanks, Steven Marrel.
Once again, not being Muslims, we consulted the experts. Essentially, the response we got was that Islam does not condone gambling. Here’s a bit more explanation.
In his very well-known book,The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, the prominent Muslim scholar, Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:
“While permitting a variety of games and sports, Islam prohibits any game which involves betting, that is, which has an element of gambling in it. We have already quoted the saying of the Prophet,’He who says to his friend: ‘Come, let us gamble,’ must give charity.’It is not lawful for the Muslim to seek relaxation and recreation in gambling, nor is it lawful for him to acquire money through it.
There are principled objectives behind this strict prohibition of gambling. Note that the follow arguments represent only the position of Islam:
- Gambling provides its own compulsion. The loser plays again in hope of winning the next game in order to regain his or her earlier losses, while the winner plays again to enjoy the pleasure of winning, impelled by greed for more – this is a fact that will be recognised by gamblers are true. Naturally, luck changes hands, the loser becomes the winner and the winner the loser, and the joy of winning changes into the bitterness of loss. Thus the gamblers may persist at playing the game, unable to bring themselves to leave it; this is the secret of the addiction to gambling.
- Because of this addiction, gambling is a danger to the society and not just the individual. This habit consumes gamblers’ time and energy, making them non-productive workers and a burden on society, people who take but do not give, people who consume but do not produce. Moreover, due to their absorption with gambling, the gambler neglects his or her obligations towards the Creator and his or her duties towards the community.
- In Islam, an individual’s property is sacred; it may not be taken from him or her except through lawful exchange or unless he or she gives it freely as a gift or in charity. As such, taking it from him or her by gambling is unlawful.
- It is therefore not at all surprising that gamblers develop a deep hatred and bitterness towards one another, despite the fact that they may claim that losing does not trouble them. There is always a winner and a loser. The loser may seem composed but behind his or her composure is frustration, anger, and regret: frustration due to disappointment, anger at the loss of money, and regret for not having played a winning game.
- The Islamic teachings urge the Muslim people to follow Allah’s directives for earning a living, to use natural laws as direct means for the attainment of his or her objectives, and to employ specific causes to produce the desired effects. Gambling, which includes raffling or the lottery, on the other hand, makes a person dependent on chance, ‘luck’ and empty wishes, taking him away from honest labour, serious work and productive effort. The person who depends on gambling loses respect for the laws of causation which Allah has established and commanded people to use.
The Qu’ran mentions drinking and gambling together in its verses, and does indeed view their harmful effects on the individual, the family and the society as very similar. Aloholism is equated with gambling addiction. In fact, the Qu’ran believes both of these behaviours to be inspired by Satan:’O you who believe, truly intoxicants and gambling and divination by arrows are an abomination of Satan’s doing; avoid them in order that you may be successful. Assuredly Satan desires to sow enmity and hatred among you by means of intoxicants and gambling, and to hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you not then desist?'(Al-Ma’idah: 93-94)”
As with a number of areas, Islam and Hinduism are largely in alignment on the issue of gambling. Hindu scriptures prohibit gambling. These are the sections of the Hindu scriptures which mention and prohibit gambling:
Rigveda Book Book 10 Hymn 34 Verse 3:
“A Gamester / gambler says,‘My wife holds me aloof, my mother hates me’. The wretched man finds none to comfort him.”(Rigveda 10:34:3)
“Play not with dice: No, cultivate thy corn land. Enjoy the gain and deem that wealth sufficient”.(Rigved 10:34:13)
Manu Smriti Chapter 7 verse 50
“Drinking, gambling, women (not lawfully wedded wives) and hunting, in that order, he should know to be the very worst four in the group of (vices) born of desire”
(Manu Smriti 7:50)
Gambling is also prohibited in several verses of the Manu Smriti including:
ii. Manu Smriti Chapter 7 Verse 47
iii.Manu Smriti Chapter 9 Verses 221-22
iv.Manu Smriti Chapter 9 Verse 258
And so it can be seen that Hinduism does not approve gambling as a lawful activity. However, in other sections of Hindu scriptures, there are suggestions that there been gambling activities carried out in Hindu culture. Mahabharata is a famous epic story and scripture in Hinduism. In this epic there are numerous instances of gambling activities. The epic states that gambling in the form of dice games was a source of entertainment for Kings. There are also other Hindu scriptures which indicate that gambling activities were carried out in Hindu empires. Thus the scriptures seem to be both prohibit gambling, and also acknowledge it as a religious norm. Contradictions in the scriptures are naturally not uncommon.
Judaism is quite well known to be lenient with gambling, particularly on certain religious holidays, such as Chanuka. This holiday is strongly associated in Jewish folklore, though perhaps not actually Jewish custom, with many forms of entertainment gambling.
In Eastern Europe card playing on Chanuka was traditional fare for adults while the younger generation of Jews amused themselves with spinning the dreidel. The origin of these customs is obscure as is their connection to the holiday of Chanuka. Most of the researchers of Jewish customs associate this gambling custom with the fact that when the Greeks searched Jewish homes for the Hasmonean guerilla fighters, the Jews played with dice or cards to distract them and allow the Jewish fighters to hide or escape. Whatever the reason, Chanuka and this type of entertainment gambling became an accepted part of the Chanuka celebrations in the general Jewish community over a thousand years ago.
However, despite this cultural acceptance and even enthusiasm for gambling, gambling, in all of its forms, was frowned upon if not actually forbidden by the traditional rabbinic authorities. Gambling for money was viewed in the Talmud as a form of thievery, since the loser never really makes peace with the losses that were sustained and he or she does not forgive or forget the winner. People who were professional gamblers were disqualified by rabbinic law from being accepted as legitimate witnesses in a Jewish court of law as they were not considered trustworthy or honest. The rabbis held that these people “did nothing to promote the benefit of society.”
Gambling on the sporting events of the time - pigeon races were common and are often cited as an example - was also forbidden as being counter productive to the true welfare of society. In light of this anti-gambling attitude of the rabbis and Jewish halacha, the accepted custom of recreational gambling on Chanuka should be considered as an anomaly in Jewish tradition. Rabbinic responsa (a special class of rabbinc literature) concerning Chanuka gambling, while not outwardly and specifically condoning the practice, does not expressly forbid it either. Jewish society apparently took this rabbinic ambivalence as a nod of approval and the custom of Chanuka gambling took hold and even became sacrosanct and came to be considered a religious exercise. After time, even those rabbis who originally disagreed with the custom came to accept it as a reality of Jewish life.
The question of gambling arose again in Eastern European Jewish society in connection with the government-sponsored lotteries that came into vogue in twentieth-century pre-World War II times. Jews participated very heavily, as the poor always do, (after all, it is the only way that they feel that they can instantaneously become rich) in purchasing tickets and take their chances in these lotteries. The question basically arose as to what was considered gambling in Talmudic and/or rabbinic terms. Here again, the people ran ahead of the rabbinic devisors, and purchasing a lottery ticket soon became unquestioned legitimate behavior in the Jewish world. The reasoning justifying this type of gambling as opposed to other forms of gambling - such as Las Vegas gambling for instance - was pretty convoluted but eventually it was seen as a voluntary tax paid by the lottery ticket buyers to the government. This cirumvented the issue of gambling and allowed the poor Jews to lose their money happily at million to one odds in state-run lotteries. The Mifal haPayis - the state-run lottery in Israel - has hundreds of thousands of religious Jewish buyers every week who do not feel at all as though they are behaving in a manner contrary with the laws of Judaism.
Further issues regarding gambling began to complicate the Jewish world especially in North America later in the twentieth century. There the Catholic Church for decades on end sponsored “Bingo” -a mild but fairly addictive form of gambling - as a means of raising funds for its institutions. Jewish synagogues and schools soon developed their own “Bingo” games to raise funds for their needs. Many rabbis opposed this type of fundraising activity, saying that holiness should not seek to find its support in basically unholy projects. However, the realities of the expenses of operating synagogues and especially schools soon overwhelmed any moral objections and Jewish sponsored “Bingo,” raffles, and even Las Vegas nights became accepted practices in Jewish institutions in the United States and Canada. The objections raised to this type of fundraising have never disappeared. They have merely been ignored.
We can see that in Judaism, practise seems to drive religious doctrine, rather than the other way around – at least in the instance of gambling. We can also see that Judaism is one of the most forgiving religions when it comes to gambling.
Buddhism takes a nuanced view of gambling and its prohibition. In Sigalovada Sutta’s “The Layman’s Code of Discipline” the following is stated:
“There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in indulging in gambling:
(i) the winner begets hate,
(ii) the loser grieves for lost wealth,
(iii) loss of wealth,
(iv) his word is not relied upon in a court of law,
(v) he is despised by his friends and associates,
(vi) he is not sought after for matrimony; for people would say he is a gambler and is not fit to look after a wife.”
Dighajanu Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya VIII.54 states the following about gambling from a Buddhist perspective:
“These are the four drains on one’s store of wealth: debauchery in sex; debauchery in drink; debauchery in gambling; and evil friendship, evil companionship, evil camaraderie. Just as if there were a great reservoir with four inlets and four drains, and a man were to close the inlets and open the drains, and the sky were not to pour down proper showers, the depletion of that great reservoir could be expected, not its increase. In the same way, these are the four drains on one’s store of wealth: debauchery in sex; debauchery in drink; debauchery in gambling; and evil friendship, evil companionship, evil camaraderie.
These are the four inlets to one’s store of wealth: no debauchery in sex; no debauchery in drink; no debauchery in gambling; and admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie. Just as if there were a great reservoir with four inlets and four drains, and a man were to open the inlets and close the drains, and the sky were to pour down proper showers, the increase of that great reservoir could be expected, not its depletion. In the same way, these are the four inlets to one’s store of wealth: no debauchery in sex; no debauchery in drink; no debauchery in gambling; and admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
Thus it seems that in Buddhistm, while gambling itself is not considered inherently wrong for the layperson (monks are forbidden from gambling), if it is indulged in to the extent that is produces “evil consequences” then it is inadvisable. It should be noted however, that, as with Christianity and other religions, there are many different types of Buddhism. The above is from Theravada Buddhism, which is practised in Thailand and elsewhere in South East Asia, but there are many other forms.
Well there you have it – a look at the major religions’ views on gambling. For the most part it seems that, which some exceptions of religions such as Islam which outright prohibit gambling with no exceptions, it is not really a black and white issue. Many factors need to be examined, such as the motivations of the gambler, the extent of the gambling, and the consequences of the gambling. Of course there are other religions or belief systems that take no stance on gambling whatsoever. Religions such as Wicca, which is a neopagan religion and a modern form of witchcraft, does not contain a dogmatic set of rules and regulations like many other religions. However, a majority of Wiccans follow a code known as the Wiccan Rede, which states “an it harm none, do what ye will”. This is generally interpreted as a declaration of the freedom to act, along with the necessity of taking responsibility for what follows from ones actions and minimising harm to oneself and others. Therefore Wicca, and religions like it, permit and condone gambling so long as it harms noone.