I have long considered writing something on gambling, but have wavered because it is quite likely that some of you at least will misunderstand. I have no problem in acknowledging that I do occasionally gamble. I do not do so very often, but when I do I thoroughly enjoy it.
I once read an article in a (very) evangelical magazine, which pronounced categorically that all gambling was wrong. It did not offer any biblical basis for its stance but simply stated that the act of gambling was motivated by wanting to get something for nothing and that this was an unchristian attitude. I did contact the editor and offered to show that the writer of the article was mistaken, but my offer was declined.
I have found that many, probably most Christians do consider gambling to be wrong, but none that I have had conversations with have been able to clearly explain why they hold that position. They have generally pointed out that some people gamble unwisely beyond what they can afford, and that others become addicted to it. This is obviously true. It is true in the same way that some people eat unwisely and become addicted to overeating, or that others use their phones far too much and seriously struggle when they have to stop using them. The fact that some people misuse something is an inadequate basis for saying that any use is wrong.
The magazine article was also based on error, two errors in fact. Firstly the writer claimed to be able to judge the motivation of everyone who gambled – such an obvious fallacy that it is hardly worth countering – and secondly he assumed that it is always wrong to want to get something for nothing, or at least for a very little. My wife and I have a small vegetable plot in our garden. We have planted seeds (which cost very little) in the hope that in due course we will have some free vegetables. Is that wrong, and if not, why not?
Both having a bet and planting seeds involves an element of risk, chance if you like. At times, such as the Irish potato famine, whole seasons of crops have failed nationally, causing ruin and even death. All agriculture is based on the principle of sowing a little to reap a lot with the minimum of required effort. That also appears to be the basis of investment in stocks and shares; something that virtually every major Christian institution gets involved in. If we decide that wanting to get something for nothing, or for a very little, is wrong, we have the freedom to adopt that stance, but surely we should be consistent in the way that we do so.
One argument that I have heard against gambling is that it is a waste of money. That again involves a couple of assumptions. Firstly – and again an obvious fallacy – is that a gambler will inevitably lose money, but there are many, myself included, who often win. It also assumes that either the gambler gets no pleasure from the act or, perhaps more pertinently, that it is wrong to spend money on such pleasurable activities. This is particularly relevant in my own case. I have good Christian friends who think nothing of spending substantial sums of money on tickets for a football or rugby match. They have concluded that it is legitimate to pay for such pleasure and, in practice, I suspect that few Christians (including the very evangelical) will disagree with them. But I have been challenged by some of those friends, for spending less than the price of a rugby ticket for a bet in a horse race, which for me is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting out on a wet and windy day watching a lot of grown men chasing an odd shaped ball around a muddy field.
When pressed to explain why they think what I do to be wrong whereas what they are doing is perfectly acceptable, the response has tended to be ‘well you are gambling’, which of course explains nothing. However, if they are willing to think about the matter, that means no more than that they spend say £40 on sport for pleasure and have no possibility of recovering any of that money, whereas I spend £40 on sport for pleasure and sometimes get it back with a profit.
I do not want to press the point too far. Of course some gambling is wrong and of course some people misuse it and become addicted. However I believe that if the same criteria which is used to validate or invalidate gambling, is applied to numerous other human activities, such as those mentioned of eating or watching rugby or football, then gambling will fare no worse than others.