What does the Bible say about gambling?

Gambling and gambling houses have multiplied to an alarming extent. What follows from this? The answer is simple, for the statistics show how the number of those addicted to gambling and raising the stakes is increasing year after year.

We cannot achieve great things unless we start small. Just as we can’t get to the top of the ladder if we don’t climb from rung to rung. With betting, you want to get to the top without taking steps in that direction. I would consider betting a good thing if I were advised to do it by my father-in-law. However, fathers don’t recommend betting, they recommend work and helping your own kind.

Work and money

Money is something we cannot live without. Even the Egyptian hermit fathers sold their needlework (what each of them made in their cell), so that they could buy themselves the necessities or material for a new work. With all this, we see how they regarded money: they never worked for the sake of enrichment and accumulation, but only to sustain their existence!

Work is a commandment of God and a fundamental law of human life that has existed since the creation of man. From the very beginning man has had a responsibility to work: “So the Lord God took man and set him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Through work man fulfils all obligations of life, realises all sense of his existence in the world: “Six days thou shalt labour and do all thy works” (Exod. 20:9).

Honest work is the only righteous way to get money. Gambling and betting reduce the way to zero, being aimed at gaining easy profits.

Unfortunately, there are also many Christians who are obsessed with the dream of getting rich overnight, or who simply enjoy gambling and betting. Christians do not talk about luck; luck implies a kind of fate, and that is incompatible with belief in God Almighty.

Gambling and scripture

Many cite as an excuse for this “weakness” or “passion” the fact that Scripture supposedly does not clearly state that gambling and betting is a sin. With all that said, we are well aware that many passions are described in Scripture, but are not called by their modern names.

St. Peter succinctly says: “They promise them freedom, being themselves slaves of corruption; for whosoever is overthrown is also a slave to that” (2 Pet. 2: 19). Is not this same freedom and prosperity promised to the world by gambling?

So, whatever you are defeated by, you are a slave to. If you cannot refrain from gambling and betting, it means that money and lust for money rule over you, and the consequences of that are not hard to understand.

“He who tills his land shall be sated with bread, but he who hunts after obsessions shall suffer privation” (Proverbs 12:11). As the prophet well put it, calling him a “hunter of impulses” who does not work, but seeks “bread”, that is money and material prosperity, on paths other than those bequeathed to us by God.

The sentence pronounced on those who seek material prosperity without much effort is short and harsh, as they deserve it: “Whoever does not want to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Whoever does not work and wants to get everything the easy way, sits “on someone else’s hump” and lives off the work of others. Therefore, only labour enables the Christian to truly fulfil the commandment to love his neighbour.

In order to gain meaning, in order not to disturb others, in order to give comfort, Apostle Paul commands Christians to work and eat the fruit of their labours: “We exhort and persuade such to work in silence by our Lord Jesus Christ, that they should eat their bread” (2 Thess. 3:12). Gambling, when it brings in money, serves the gambler the “bread” of others, not the fruit of his hands.

Sooner or later, the consequences of income derived from gambling will become tangible, for “the recompense of a man is according to the works of his hands” (Proverbs 12:14). Depression is very common among those who are addicted to gambling; it subsequently leads to the break-up of families and the severance of ties with people once dear to them.

Church canons on gambling

Gambling is an entertainment but also a way of unjust gain, a veiled form of theft (25th Apostolic Canon) and the Church rules condemn it by its sinful consequences resulting from stealing, drunkenness, wasted time, mischief etc., especially when applied to the clergy (42nd and 43rd Apostolic Canon, 9th and 51st Canon of the VI Ecumenical Council).

The holy fathers recommend innocent and wholesome entertainment – walks in the park, gardens, mountains, but not gambling or similar games of chance, when the body remains motionless and therefore does not rest, the mind is tense and the soul is agitated because of the failure of unjust gain or, in case of success, by excitement and disputes that lead to sin. Smoking, gambling, drunkenness, and shameless amusements bring to the surface the base qualities of the human soul and the development of sinful lusts in it (Gal. 5: 19-21; Eph. 5: 3-5; Apostolic Acts. Kn. 8: 32, 16).

“Let no layman or clergyman henceforth indulge in reprehensible games. But if any one is found doing these things, let the clergyman be deprived of the clergy, and the layman be excommunicated from the communion of the Church” (Canon 50 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council).

Father Cleopas and “good fortune”

It is a much heavier situation when prayers ask for “good luck” in such games. Father Cleopas Elie mentions such cases in one of his talks:

“I see that in some of the venerations you have mentioned the demon Luck, writing: ‘For the good luck of a daughter’, ‘For the good luck of a son’, ‘For the good luck of a family’. What is it that you wrote the devil in my naming book? Do you know who Luck was? It was the biggest demon that mowed down millions of souls. Moloch, or “Luck”, was the god of happiness among the Romans, Sumerians and Carthaginians.

What was this god Moloch, or “Luck” as we call him today? His statue, cast of copper or silver, was carried on a two-wheeled cart. He had a copper cooker on his back and a copper pan in front of him; wood was poured into Luck from behind until the statue was red-hot. And his priests carried axes in their hands, large and sharpened.

What sacrifice did Luck accept? Only infants from the hands of their mothers. They came to the village where you live. They dragged Luck’s chariot with a red-hot frying pan and called out, clapping their hands: “Who wants luck, make a sacrifice to luck!” And listen to the mad women, they said to each other: “Kuma, will you give your child away?”, and she answered: “I’ll give it to be lucky!”. Baba took a child from father’s hands, put it into hands of an idol’s servant, he cut it into pieces and put on the griddle of Luck to fry. So up to 40-50 children at a time he would put on that frying pan”.

Gambling and betting

By the very nature of their activities betting and gambling houses can be a temptation: we find there a godless world worshipping metal and paper idols (money). In such places profanity of all kinds (especially against the sanctuary) and anger feel right at home.

The Church Fathers exhorted us to constantly avoid temptations and not to rely on our own strength that we would be able to cope with them. I wish I could say that I don’t see anything knowingly sinful about betting “from time to time”, but I can’t say that. That “now and then” is so sly that you can’t even try to experience it. A great sin and a great sickness lies behind these ‘games’ as they very easily turn into a passion (addiction). The “game” eventually leads to the breakdown of the family and to its disintegration.

Gambling money is unclean money; it is money that someone has stolen and someone has not fed his family with it.

The risk of getting used to the rhythm of quick profits, when, after so much standing and thinking, you hit the money, is too tempting to call it “gambling”. The risk that follows “trying out” easy prey is so great that most fall into a heavy addiction.

There is a possibility that, at some point, there will be no more winnings. Simultaneously with the problem of lost sums comes severe depression. Then the person, who has not learned anything else, considers himself incapable of serious work and reaches especially severe frustrations.

Medics believe that this “passion” is linked to socio-demographic factors. Men react differently to the stakes than women. Difficult adaptation to social change, withdrawal from home and loneliness may be the reasons that contribute to “gambling addiction”.

As with drugs, alcohol and smoking, gambling addiction (gambling addiction) develops gradually. Once a passion, gambling addiction leads to a string of failures, which can lead to severe depression, and sometimes even suicide and crime.

In psychotherapy there is the concept of addictive behaviour, which occurs when a passion becomes stronger than one’s own will and a mature outlook on things. In civilised countries, gambling addiction is recognised as a mental illness.

Gambling addiction is an addiction based on the fact that the gambler cannot control his own urge to gamble, to take risks. Gambling helps him distract himself from his everyday problems because the high levels of adrenaline make him feel as if all is well. When he wins, he feels he is someone important, “above the world” and then wants to feel it again, and when he loses, he hopes he will get revenge, that his luck will return to him. This makes him risk again and again larger or smaller sums of money.

In Orthodox morality to be dependent on a passion means, however, to be mentally ill, not to be free, it means slavery, it means a prison into which you imprison yourself and from which you cannot escape, because your will can no longer be subdued.

Orthodox psychotherapy sees the love of money and material wealth and pleonexia (selfishness and greed) at the root of this passion. The point here is not that getting money is a sin, but about the way of getting it and a perverted attitude towards money, i.e. a passionate, pathological desire to save money neurotically.

In some cases these patients end up in hospital, where psychotherapy is combined with medication. We already have doctors in our clinics who specialise in treating this kind of addiction.

Breaking free from gambling networks

The first step in treating any addiction is recognising it. Once one admits that he/she is addicted to a certain thing, the person concerned should start fighting against it. One should avoid being alone with oneself, for this will inevitably push one to return to the addiction in question.

Talking to loved ones and confessing to a priest are really helpful.

However, something must motivate the addict.

For the Christian, the Gospel can be powerful enough to shield him from any passion and any addiction. The pure life of the saints and the teachings of the holy fathers are sufficient to strengthen the soul and motivate it to find freedom from passions.

For the person who does not heed the Scriptures, help can come through the people he loves. Love for another person, for a child or a desire for a healthy family is often the strongest motivation. When these do not work either, there is only one way out that God can provide.

Sometimes love for the person is not enough to deliver the person possessed by the evil one from this wickedness of the evil one. Therefore, since all pernicious addictions are caused by the wickedness of the devil, the help of God is needed in most cases.

The most important thing is to confess one’s passion. The priest has a grace that ordinary Christians do not have, and with it he can strengthen the will of the one who comes to confession. Sincere confession attracts the grace and help of God. “God, I don’t want to do this anymore, help me! I love my family and the people around me, strengthen my will and help me get rid of this chain!”

Fasting and prayer are the strongest weapons against the wiles of the evil one. If the obsessed person cannot fast, let his relatives fast, and God, in view of their love, will have mercy on the “sick” and give him the power to free himself from his addiction.

What, then, is the conclusion to be drawn from the above? The Bible does not specifically condemn gambling, betting or lotteries. The Bible warns us not to be caught up in the craving for money!