Gambling- What’s the Problem?
By Wendell Cantrell
Put your counselor hat on for a moment and help me answer the following question:
I play poker with my friends once a week. I really enjoy the game, just like I enjoy soccer, basketball or football. I’m not addicted to gambling. It’s just a game I love, I continue reading books about it and I’m good at it too. Sometimes we bet money and sometimes we don’t. But my mom and I have had several conversations about this and she’s uncomfortable with my gambling. Is it wrong to play poker at all?1
I’ll help you by giving you a multiple choice option:
- No problem, the Bible is silent on it.
- Fine, as long as you don’t bet money.
- Avoid it like the plague.
The above question is coming frequently with our young generation called “millenials.” Where the boomer generation erred on the legalistic side (don’t smoke, drink, dance, or go with anybody that does), our younger Christian cohorts are saying “show me in the Word.” If you do a Google search for “Christian Poker,” the top results will mainly show articles saying, “go ahead” or “as long as it doesn’t take over your life, you are not sinning.” Little is said of biblical principles at all.
The topic got more attention this past November as Jerry B. Jenkins, the co-author of the best-selling Left Behind novels and one of today’s busiest Christian authors, was exposed as being a serious poker player. A major duty for Jenkins of late is being the chairman of Moody Bible Institute Board of Trustees. World magazine2 came across Jenkins’ name on GlobalPokerIndex.com, a website that compiles poker tournament results submitted by casinos and creates public profiles of players who cash in. It seems that nothing is secret in our digital age. According to the Global Poker Index data, Jenkins has won $8,065 at two casinos recently. When questioned by the magazine, Jenkins responded, “I don’t play for what I would consider significant amounts of money. And I wouldn’t gamble, either. I mean, I don’t play slots. I consider poker a skill game.” Jenkins said many evangelicals have relaxed their opposition especially to poker. He says, “Easily half the people I play with in home games are fellow believers. I am known where I play, and people know I am a Christian. I share my faith. I sign and give away books.” In further response, Jenkins adds, “I would respectfully challenge anyone to find biblical justification for prohibiting playing poker for money (in moderation at amounts they can afford) while allowing spending the same amounts to play golf or engage in fantasy sports leagues.” Jenkins says poker is nothing more than a social hobby and often the games have given him opportunities to meet new people and pray with or counsel them. He says, “Frankly, were it not for poker, we would hardly ever rub shoulders with unsaved people.”
Interestingly, according to a post published on https://www.boomtownbingo.com/ by https://www.wizardslots.com, the Moody board that Jenkins chairs recently established a new Moody employee policy that permits gambling, tobacco use, and the consumption of alcohol while off duty. Rules for Moody’s students, however, are much stricter. The Student Life Guide doesn’t permit students to smoke, drink, or gamble even during holidays. Could you make the case for a double standard here?
Let’s look a bit closer at some biblical wisdom on the gambling issue. Al Mohler3 shares the following insight: “The entire enterprise of gambling is opposed to the moral worldview revealed in God’s Word. The basic impulse behind gambling is greed—a basic sin that is the father of many other evils. Greed, covetousness, and avarice are repeatedly addressed by Scripture—always presented as a sin against God, and often accompanied by a graphic warning of the destruction which is greed’s result. The burning desire for earthly riches leads to frustration and spiritual death.” Paul gave clear advice to young Timothy that, “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil….” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Many of our brothers embracing gambling will say, “We never bet more than a couple of dollars a game. What in the world can that hurt?” How about causing a weaker brother to stumble? Paul clearly warns the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8:13) to be careful of causing a brother to stumble. Our goal should be to do nothing that makes a fellow Christian stumble. We all know that addictions can begin very casually and on a small scale. We should also ask our brothers about their embracing of the worldview of chance. A biblical worldview affirms God’s sovereignty over all events, leaving no place for luck. Do we want to be embracing a worldview of chance before family and friends?
Two more biblical principles stand firmly against the gambling idea—our clarion call to be good stewards, and to embrace a strong work ethic. The good steward realizes that his possessions and money are not his own, but God’s. How do you explain that trip to Las Vegas when we give a final accounting to our Lord? Perhaps you would agree wholeheartedly with the stewardship issue, but are wondering about the connection of gambling with the Christian work ethic. The dignity of work and reward for industriousness is highlighted throughout scripture. Lazy, slothful individuals were considered scandalous to the early church. With gambling, one is offered the hope of gain without labor.
The National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention officially oppose gambling, and last year opposed a bill that would have expanded online poker. In a 1997 resolution the SBC called on Christians to “exercise their influence by refusing to participate in any form of gambling or its promotion.” Good for them. I challenge each of you to be having a conversation with friends and relatives about this topic that the church has been too silent and complacent about. You might start with the introductory question we posed. Finally, remember to watch out for those “harmless” games that you think are being done in secret. We not only have our omniscient Father, we have that digital trail that may come back to haunt us someday.
* Stay tuned next month as we wrap up this topic with powerful testimony from one of our own- Lloyd Campbell
Questions or comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Christianity Today, Jim Burns
(2) World Magazine Nov. 2, 2013
(3) Albert Mohler Feb 20, 2012