The Christian And Gambling (Lottery)

Several states in the Union are adopting state operated lotteries in order to increase revenue. Should Christians “play the lottery?” This article shows why the lottery is a means of gambling and argues that gambling is against the will of God. It behooves all citizens of every state, especially Christians, to understand the issues involved. This is being written to influence and urge readers to investigate some of the moral implications of state operated gambling operations, as well as the sin of gambling in general.

Many otherwise honest citizens, who would never think of gambling at dice, blackjack, poker or roulette, think nothing of putting up a few dollars for lottery tickets. Rationalizing that the state benefits from lotteries, and everything is a gamble anyway, the lottery provides a legal way of obtaining the results of the gaming tables in back rooms or private clubs. The threat that teacher’s already low wages will have to be cut had the lottery not become legal added to the alleged need for the lottery.

Any lottery is gambling, pure and simple. No matter who sponsors a lottery, the principle is the same. The World Book Encyclopedia defines a lottery as follows: “LOTTERY is perhaps the most widespread form gambling. In most lotteries, the gamblers buy numbered tickets. Duplicate numbered tickets kept by the seller are drawn at random, and the persons holding the matching tickets win prizes. Lotteries may also involve predicting sporting event results. Sweepstakes, pools, and rallies are forms of lottery.” (Volume 12, page 413).

The next question is, is gambling wrong? What does the Bible say about it? To my knowledge, the word gambling is not found in the King James Bible. Like many other issues, however, a number of biblical principles deal with it. Consider the following:

What is Gambling? 

To understand the biblical principles one must understand what is meant by gambling. A chance or risk is not a gamble. Many legitimate enterprises, sanctioned in the Bible, involve chance and risk. Farming, for example, is not a gamble, even though the enterprise is often risky. Investing in the Stock Market is not gambling. Borrowing money to start a business in not a gamble. And, many more like activities could be included in what gambling is not, even though some often put these things in the category of gambling.

Gambling is defined clearly “risking or betting something on the outcome of an event.” (Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary). Gambling is placing a bet or a wager on anything that is a chance or at risk. Most ex-sailors, or people who have been aboard a troop ship, know that sailing the deep blue is a risk. That is not a gamble, but a calculated risk. However, the same people know what an “anchor pool” is. Some entrepreneur divided a paper into 60 blocks, each representing a minute of the hour. Participants in the anchor pool paid a certain amount of money for one or more of the blocks. The ship’s log recorded the exact minute the anchor was dropped and the owner of that minute/block won all the money on that card. The trip is risky, the precise moment the anchor drops is uncertain, and the money put into the anchor pool is the only thing that is a gamble. The same applies to other risk events. I remember service men betting substantial amounts of money on the color of a gum ball that would come from a gum ball machine.

What is Wrong with Gambling?

The Bible teaches some things by principles of righteous conduct. There are three principles that any form or degree of gambling violates.

The Principle of Love. Gambling has the wrong object for love. Paul wrote to Timothy that the “love of money is the root of all (every kind) of evil” (1 Tim.  6:10). The love of “the things that are in the world” is the principal motive that impels the gambler. Those who serve the true and living God are forbidden such love (1 John 2:15-17). Taking from others in a game of chance is not the kind of love the Bible demands (Matt. 22:37; Rom. 13:8-10). No one honestly believes that those who buy a lottery ticket are primarily interested in helping out the seller of lottery tickets, whether it is the state, or some benevolent institution.

The Principle of work. Those who honor God remember that it is the “laborer” who is worth his money (Luke 10:7) and that working with the hands in that which is good is acceptable (Eph. 4:28). The gambler, to the contrary, works with cunning, chance, deceit, and often fraud to acquire money by gambling from others.

The Principle of Commerce. The Bible approves of some commercial enterprises. There is “buying and selling to get gain” (James 4:13-17) and this is exemplified in the case of Lydia, a “seller of purple” (Acts 16:14) and the virtuous woman, a good property buyer (Prov. 31:16). Investments are legitimate means of commerce (Matt. 25:14-30). Farming is sanctioned (Matt. 13). All of these are honorable means of employment and gain. But there is no way gambling can be construed as an honorable occupation. The same is true of lotteries.

A few years ago, the Commonwealth of Kentucky legalized the state lottery. Allegedly, it was to increase revenue for schools, better roads, and other issues of common interest to the citizens of our Commonwealth. Our current situation in Kentucky are not new. Lotteries in our Commonwealth have been here before. They have a far less than admirable track record.

The first lottery in Kentucky involved the Masonic Lodge. The Masons requested authority to run a lottery to construct the “Kentucky Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons.” The legislature passed the required authorization for them in 1795. The lottery was conducted a year later. The Masons appealed again for the same permission and in 1814 obtained a grant to raise $30,000 for the consolidation of four lodges and the “Royal Arch Chapter” in a single Lodge Hall. The grand prize was advertised as $20,000.

A doctor Lewis Marshall of Woodford County bought the lucky number, but when he tried to claim his winnings, the Masons gave him Kentucky Bank Notes no where near the worth of the amount promised. Dr. Marshall filed suit to be paid in gold. The court decided in favor of the doctor. The Masons could only come up with half the prize and promised to pay the balance in ten years, adding 6% interest.

After the Civil War, Kentucky became a fertile field for shysters selling all kinds of lottery tickets. The fraud and corruption became so rampant the legislature passed a bill forbidding lotteries from out of state. In 1903, the bill was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, in “Champion versus Ames.” The Supreme Court ruling was made as a means “to guard the people of the United States from the pestilence of lotteries.”

The Constitutional Convention of 1890, in order to protect the citizens of Kentucky from the “pestilence” of lotteries the constitutional delegation considered adopting a prohibition against all lotteries as part of the Kentucky Bill of Rights. Had it not been for a religiously radical and over-enthusiastic representative from Louisville, it would have been included in a section of the Bill of Rights, but it was only included in the “General Provisions,” a part of Kentucky’s state constitution. 

That general provision still stands, as far as this writer knows, in the General Provisions of Kentucky’s Bill of Rights. Here is how it reads: “Lotteries and gift enterprises are forbidden, and no privileges shall be granted for such purposes, and none shall be exercised, and no schemes for similar purposes shall be allowed. The General Assembly shall enforce this section by proper penalties. All lottery privileges or charters heretofore granted are revoked.” Please notice--all lottery privileges.

A state lottery does not solve economic problems. Every state that has legalized this form of gambling has learned that the increased need for law enforcement, additional bureaucracy to administer it, and the extensive regulations and laws necessary to expedite it, are more costly than the anticipated revenue from the lottery. Kentucky learned, just a few years into the lottery, that a lottery invites fraud, embezzling and theft.

A state lottery does not solve social problems; it creates more. The city of Las Vegas suffers the reputation of “Crime City, USA,” largely due to the lure that legal gambling and limited legal prostitution present to organized crime syndicates. A state Lottery, along with an already legal limited paramutual gambling on horse racing, opens the door to other and more vicious forms of corruption.As a Christian, you cannot participate in them and please the Lord. 

(Some of the material used in this article came from the Public Library and an article by Thomas D. Clark, historian and former chairman of the University of Kentucky history department, via The Kentuckian.)

Back to Religious Issues