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Religious Beliefs vs. Gambling – Is it Right or Wrong?

By Kent Mullins in General
| September 25, 2017 12:00 am PDT
religion-and-gambling||

Look, there’s a reason they call Las Vegas “Sin City.” For the most part, your average person recognizes gambling as a vice, but can you reconcile religious beliefs with partaking in gambling? It’s a complicated question with many different answers depending on who you are speaking with.

First of all, according to recent estimates, there are over 4,200 religions in existence on this planet. For the purposes of this discussion, I will be looking at a few of the religions with the largest followings, and what those religions say about gambling. Secondly, within religions, you have various degrees of staunchness and severity of their convictions. For that reason, I believe what is in a person’s heart when partaking in a vice is more important than blanket rules themselves.

Because belief systems are such a subjective thing, there is never going to be one set of rules or one book that is interpreted the same way by every follower.  When discussing a vice like gambling, I believe this holds true as well. Are you responsible with gambling? Are you able to stay under control and have fun with it? Is it causing resentment and anger in your psyche? These are the types of questions I believe a person needs to ask when deciding if gambling fits their belief systems.

Christianity

According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2015, there are 2.3 billion Christians on planet Earth. This is the largest religious group in the world making up a staggering 31.2% of the world’s population. Christians believe in Jesus Christ and get their theological teachings from The Bible, specifically The New Testament.

The Bible never specifically mentions gambling as a sin; however, there are numerous lessons about money itself which can be applied to beliefs about gambling. For example, in Matthew 6:24 (New International Version) the Bible states “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Examining that verse, particularly the use of the word “masters”, I believe this speaks to the mindset that you are approaching money and thus gambling with. If money is your master, you cannot serve Jesus, which is of the utmost importance to the Christian faith.

In 1 Timothy 6:10 the Bible goes further about money, and by extension, gambling by saying “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” So as you can see, the Bible tends to focus on the attitude towards money and gambling more so than the action itself. After we discuss other religious texts, I will discuss this further.

Islam

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions. It is also the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims currently make up the second largest religion in the world with 1.8 billion adherents. Followers of the Islamic faith study The Quran

The Quran is a bit clearer on gambling than the Bible, as it explicitly forbids it calling games of chance and gambling “abominations of the devil.” The Quran (5:90-91) states “O you who believe, intoxicants, and gambling, and the altars of idols and the games of chance are abominations of the devil; you shall avoid them, that you may succeed. The devil wants to provoke animosity and hatred among you through intoxicants and gambling and to distract you from remembering GOD, and from observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Will you then refrain?”

In another section of The Quran, games of chance, or gambling are once again mentioned, “They ask you about intoxicants and games of chances. Say: in both of them there is a great sin” (Surah al-Baqarah 2:219). So as you can see, The Quran itself is fairly clear about gambling being forbidden.

Despite many of the Muslim countries in the Middle East banning gambling, in accordance with The Quran, Pakistan and Bangladesh do allow betting on horse races. The United Arab Emirates also hosts the Dubai World Cup Night, which is the world’s richest thoroughbred race.

Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion created in the East, which encompasses the traditions and spiritual teachings taught by The Buddha. The basic rules of Buddhism are called the Five Precepts. These precepts are to abstain from harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxication.

While the main precepts of Buddhism do not specifically mention gambling, there are some mentions of six evil consequences for indulging in gambling: 1) winner begets hate, 2) the loser grieves for lost wealth, 3) loss of wealth, 4) his word is not relied upon in a court of law, 5) he is despised by his friend and associates, 6) he is not sought after for matrimony; for people would say he is a gambler and is not fit to look after a wife.

So much like Christianity, Buddhism treats gambling as a vice and advises against it. While some of the warnings apply to today, many of the attitudes towards gambling have changed. For instance, a gambler may still testify in a court of law and most likely will still be able to find a spouse. Regardless, gambling is not a mortal sin.  In Buddhism there is no single deity or god to damn one to hell,  one’s karma will suffer for gambling instead, possibly bringing about consequences in the future.

Hinduism

Hinduism is one of the most ancient belief systems in the world. The starting date and founders are unknown. Like Buddhism, Hinduism preaches karma and the cycles of reincarnation until reaching nirvana.

The Hindu approach to gambling is that there is a time and a place for everything. While excessive gambling and irresponsibility will certainly beget negative karma, there are some exceptions to when gambling is okay. During the festivities of Divali, gambling is allowed. Children participate in card games as their parent’s watch on.

Whether the action creates positive or negative karma depends on the gamblers motives and intentions. The rules are not black and white; it all depends on the context of the activity.

Is Gambling Right or Wrong?

As expected, questions of morality such as this one really come down to the individual. Of the four major world religions mentioned here, only Muslims have any specific prohibitions to gambling in their religious texts. The other three warn against the pitfalls of excessive gambling without explicitly forbidding it outright.

Interestingly enough, even in Muslim countries, people will find ways around the rules against gambling. Betting horses are the favorite form of gambling in the Middle East. While this is not a game of chance or a lottery, you are still making wagers on the outcome of the races. It is also important to remember that within Islam are several different Muslim religions with the various interpretations of their Quran, which may lead to some Muslims feeling comfortable betting horses while others do not.

I believe if an individual can partake in gambling as a recreational activity, with no damage to their personal, spiritual or professional life, it is completely acceptable behavior.

However, if a person has a tendency towards addiction, or is not in the financial situation to afford to lose, they should refrain. As is the case with all vices, for example, drinking, gambling takes responsibility to participate in safely.

If you read the warnings provided in the religious examples, they do give good advice. Gambling can create resentment towards the winner and regret in the loser. And an obsession over money, possibly chasing one’s loses, can corrupt the mind. But done responsibly, gambling can also be a fun way to have more involvement in sporting events, or just to pass the time. Plus, of all the vices it’s the only one that allows you to possibly win some money!

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