It may not be on the medieval list of the seven deadly sins, but we should have realized that since Jesus and the NT has plenty to say about and against 'the love of money', gambling was likely to surface at some point as one of the major besetting sins of a culture with too much discretionary income. That culture would be western culture, supposedly based on a free market economy, though it might be better called a venture capital and barricuda investor economy. What that sort of approach to economics is really good at is turning our country into a debtor nation.
The rich get richer, and those least able to afford it, the poor and working class, turn to scratch off tickets trying to win the lottery so they can 'get ahead' in life.
But what is wrong with a little betting at the office pool or buying a lottery ticket? What is wrong with going to a casino and having a little fun? After all-- it is 'our' money isn't it? Well in truth there are a whole cluster of problems with gambling from a Biblical point of view of which I only have time to list a few.
Firstly let us deal with the basic Biblical notion that "a workman is worthy of his hire". This principle found in the OT and reiterated in the NT by both Jesus and Paul and others stresses not only that work is good, but that proper compensation for the work is appropriate, indeed a moral requirement of a just society. The principle behind gambling not only severs the connection between work and proper remuneration, but in fact encourages a flagrant disregard for such a work ethic.
The idea behind gambling is of course that I invest only a little of my time and capital in hopes of a return that is out of all proportion to the investment, indeed could in no way be justified as a 'fair or just return' for the investment. Put in colloquial terms it is an attempt to gain a lot, by investing or doing very little. In short, it is a form of cheating which demeans honest hard work. It is always and everywhere a form of cheating, even when it is done out of desperation in order to try and survive.
One of the more moving films of the past year which I watched again last night is Cinderella Man. There is a gripping scene where Jimmy Braddock, despite how shamed he felt and how much of a failure as a bread-winner he felt, got in the governmental assistance line to get funds to keep his family from starving. This scene however is revisted with a happier ending when Jimmy goes back to the assistance office, and gives back, with interest, all he had been given. He understood the principle of work, and the importance of seeing loans as loans that must be paid back.
The second problem with gambling is that according to the Bible, a Christian person is not supposed to charge, nor receive benefit from ridiculous and egregious or exorbitant interest rates. But in fact gambling operates on the principle of in effect charging people in general way more than they can afford to pay, in order that a few people can be inordinately 'rewarded' for their investment, and I do mean a tiny minority of people.
I have not seen the latest figures, but if you view gambling as a form of investing, then it is clear that over 90% of all the participants are getting ripped off on a regular basis. For a Christian to participate in such a system is to violate what God's Word says when it stresses that at most there should be a modest interest rate used and that in any case loaning money or borrowing money should be done on the basis of a fair return and the eventual ability to repay (read Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers again). Forgivness of debts should be at the discretion of the loaner, not be an expectation of the borrower.
But these problems are minor compared to the major one that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof". Every Christian should know that 'their' money is in fact not something they 'own'. They are actually only stewards of God's money and God's resources. In a world full of worthy causes, to gamble with the money you make is in fact to take food out of the mouths of the poor, and indeed may well be to take food out of the mouths of your own family! It is inexcusably self-centered behavior, too often grounded not in desperation, but in a desire to 'get something for next to nothing' which is neither an honorable nor a Christian affection, desire or longing. It is incompatible with the Christian character as described under the heading of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5. That acquistive desire, or desire for securing one's own future by hook or crook is incompatible with a self-sacrificial temperament. It is clearly not what Jesus would do or want us to do.
There is furthermore of course the pragmatic issue that gambling is habit-forming even with people who have some degree of self-discipline. It can very easily, and very quickly become an addiction, especially if one, early on has the 'thrill' of actually getting an inordinate reward for a tiny investment. Suddenly one's brain sees red and thinks--- "you can get something for nothing, and if you can, you ought to." Americans are suckers for all kinds of get rich quick schemes, it's just that gambling is an endemic form of it.
Even worse is when the church itself promotes one or another form of gambling (e.g. Wednesday night bingo) in order to pay its own bills. The Bible is perfectly clear that since everything belongs to God Christians should be giving sacrificially to the cause of Christ, which in many cases will mean well beyond a tithe. Jesus calls his followers to heed the example of the widow who gave all her monetary assets to the Temple treasury. This was far more than tithing. If we were coming even close to doing that, there would be no need for bingo to pay the bills. In fact however, America is one of the least tithing 'Christian' countries on earth. It's absolutely disgraceful.
And beneath and below the surface of all of this there is the deep amnesia that God, after all, has all the resources in the world and beyond in his hands. There is absolutely no reason or justifable cause for Christians to compromise their ethics to get 'ahead' in life, as if they could not turn to God and the body of Christ and get assistance. God's bank never runs short and if we ask according to the will of God (praying for things that are necessities such as are listed in the Lord's prayer, not unnecessary luxuries which we are not encouraged to ask for)God will indeed do more than we expect. Gambling is an act of despair by those who either never trusted God or have given up doing so.
One of the things that has most depressed me of late is seeing my beloved home state, North Carolina, after having fought the good fight against a state lottery for so long, finally capitulate to this sinful enterprise, expedited by political trickery. I was not surprised by the recent allegations about a major gambling ring run by an NHL coach no less. Sports and betting have become kissing cousins in our lifetime where as before the gambling industry was more like the black sheep of the family that nonetheless sports acknowledge as part of the family. But I had hoped for better out of the N.C. State legislature. It is simply one more sign that Christian values are losing their grip on American public life and we shall all be the poorer for it.
My grandfather was a remarkable man who never had more than a junior high education. He was a deacon in the Baptist church, and a fireman and fire chief, and he gave a good deal of his time to public service--- among other things counting votes, giving his time freely and for nothing. During the depression when he was making next to nothing, he continued to give to his church, and indeed to those less fortunate even when he was making about $10-12 every week or so. He would be ashamed of North Carolina just now and its decision about gambling. He understood the value of hard work, and he understood the big difference between freely giving something away-- time, talent, money, and the attempt to snatch something by some immoral means from some industry based on the sin of greed.
Gambling at the the end of the day, cheapens the soul of the gambler, can ruin his family, and supports a blood-sucking industry that in fact cannot claim to do any great good for American society, for it induces and seduces us to forget God and give up on honest work. James was right--- "the love of money is a root of all imaginable sorts of evil". May our society wake up and stop this self-infliced wounding of the human spirit.