“+100 odds for Joe Burrow to throw for three touchdowns? Where’s my credit card…?”
Okay - I’ll admit it. At the start of this year, I was in the sights of every sports gambling company (you know their names), and I could only take so many haymakers being thrown at me about bonus bets or signup codes before I caved.
Like many other borderline-degenerate millennials, I enjoy sports. I also enjoy receiving money (plus, I possess a severe addiction to thinking the Lakers will cover the spread every night (boy, was I disappointed this year)).
And the two don’t even have to be combined - I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional visit to a blackjack table only to complain about how rigged it is.
But I also want to honor God and not end up homeless, begging family members for cash, pleading with them that I knew a guy who knew a guy that predicted every Super Bowl winner correctly since 1994 and that this would be my big break.
So, I knew I had to face the big question. One that I, and likely you, have heard a variety of different answers from over the years:
Is Gambling a Sin?
My answer: No. Unless it is.
What Does the Bible Say About Gambling, Then?
Contrary to what you also may have heard, The Bible does not prohibit gambling. In fact, it doesn’t really mention it. The closest thing we see to it being mentioned is the act of ‘casting lots’ (using items similar to dice for random chance to determine God’s will), which is actually instructed by God and done 70(!) times throughout scripture.
Now, the introduction of the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom for us does do away with the need to cast lots to determine his will in modern times - but the point stands. The Bible does not declare gambling as sinful.
Unless it is (for you).
Like many actions or activities that the Bible doesn’t specifically speak to, I believe we are called to look to our heart’s desires and motivations for said actions or activities to find God’s will for us on a personal level. While a particular action may be fine for one person, it might not be the case for another (Matthew 5:27-30).
So, Is Gambling a Sin - for Me?
I asked myself a few questions to get to that answer for my own personal life (mainly in regard to sports betting, but I believe this line of thinking applies to all gambling).
1. Why am I doing this?
You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23).
The apostle Paul, who wrote nearly the entire new testament (including 1 Corinthians), led me to ask this question - which may seem like an elementary one. But it’s also the last question any of these Goliath-type gambling industries want us to be asking:
Why am I betting in the first place?
Is it just a fun thing to do with friends?
Am I in a pinch with money, hoping this will help?
Do I love the high I get when 1/7 of my bets hits?
Am I just bored?
God calls us to be intentional with our entire lives (Ecclesiastes 12:13) - and asking not just the question, “Why am I doing this?” but also, “Is this good for me?” is a great way to approach anything we do.
We could also ask - does this help me become more of the person I want to be? Just because this may not be “sinful,” does it mean it’s automatically healthy for me?
I could probably have checked “yes” to all four of those questions about my intentions (and a fifth check about how I believe my money motivates LeBron to play harder, too, somehow).
2. Do people in my life know about this activity?
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
And a chapter later:
”Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
These verses from Proverbs, one of the books of wisdom, highlight one of the most accessible gateways for any habit to turn into a full-blown addiction: to keep it in the dark.
We may hide (or subtly cover) activities in our lives for several reasons, but the primary ones (in my experience) are to avoid judgment from others or so someone doesn’t tell us something that might disagree with our lifestyle.
If we don’t let others know, we think, we can evade retribution from those who “just don’t get it.”
We also may be fine with telling others about our habits, just so long as it is people that we know would for sure be “okay” with that habit and/or are already doing it themselves.
I believe we can all attest, however, that anything kept in the dark always comes to light (J. Cole agrees)1, or the reality of it being in the dark harms ourselves or others. When was the last time a hidden habit or secret lifestyle did you well?
Which reminds me - and I hope my fiancé is reading this - I’ve been going to Great Clips almost weekly for the last year and just needed someone to know.
If you are tempted to hide any habit in your life - especially from those who you think might disagree with you - it’s likely a sign it may not be the healthiest thing for you.
I was fine talking shop with some of my friends about sports betting. But I then realized that they all sports gambled too (degenerate millennials, remember?), which wasn’t helping to provide me the differing perspective I knew was good for me.
3. Have I talked to God about it?
Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
So give yourselves completely to God. (James 4:7)
Whoa. Peter and Jesus’ brother James are throwing their own haymakers here.
This question (‘Have I talked to God about it?’) always gets me - and not just with gambling.
If we desire God to be in the driver’s seat of our lives, it means giving him every thought, action, and plan we construct.
And if we are afraid to do so, out of fear that He also may disagree with us (raising my hand in agreement with this one), then that might be a sign we are holding onto something too tightly.
Even if we look outside of Christianity for insight into this topic, it’s effortless to see the hold that gambling has on our culture. Almost 10 million Americans have a gambling addiction.2
That study was also released seven years ago. It seems safe to assume that number has climbed much higher for many reasons.
I began to notice that for as much as I was scrolling through those apps, I had barely said a peep to God about any of it (or listened to a word from Him).
And when I did start to pray, I realized I wanted to keep the apps for reasons that were pretty empty and had more potential for harm than good.
Time to Settle Up?
Like any habit globally known to be addictive, I believe it’s wise (even if you take God’s wisdom entirely out of the equation) to be, at worst, hesitant to be a part of the gambling world.
In answering my three questions above, I decided that it was not wise for me to continue to have the sports betting apps on my phone. And for any gambling to be an absolute rarity.
While I hold no judgment over those who do, I encourage a pause and reflection for anyone considering staying in or venturing into this field. The rewards are enticing for a reason (though typically small), but the risk could be life-overtaking.
But above all - far beyond the world of gambling - getting used to living in the light and presenting our lives to God is never a bad habit to get into. And for this season, I know where my heart (and wallet) should be given.
1Kevin’s Heart, a song by J. Cole
2North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help Research