Sports betting in the United States has increased 10-fold in the last three years. American sports betting companies raked in approximately $7 billion last year. Fifty million Americans bet $16 billion on Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles—an average of $320 per person! (The Hill, February 10).
Most sports betting was illegal in this country until a Supreme Court ruling in 2018. In 2022, 65 percent of Americans approved of this decision (ibid). Practically everyone approves of betting and gambling in general.
Since everyone is doing it, should you? What does God think of these pervasive practices?
The Love of Money
There is a slight distinction between betting and gambling: Betting is not entirely up to chance, while gambling is. Betting can involve research—finding out which football team is superior and should win the game, for example. Gambling is literally a roll of the dice or a pull of the lever, with no way of forecasting the outcome.
Despite the nuance, God treats betting and gambling the same. “For the love of money is the [should read a] root [cause] of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things …” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).
Notice: The love of money—not money itself—is a root cause of all evil. Covetousness and lust for money break the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17). God tells us to flee from anything that causes us to covet!
“[T]he reasons people start gambling always include a certain degree of lust for money, prizes or recognition” (“No Gambling Allowed,” Trumpet, April 2006). The same is true of betting. How could anyone offer any other reason for getting into gambling or betting? The whole point is to win money—often huge, life-changing amounts of it.
At the very least, gamblers and bettors are lusting for a thrill—taking a risk to break the monotony of their everyday lives. Still, lust is lust—and it breaks the Tenth Commandment, if not other commandments too. (Request our free booklet The Ten Commandments to prove that God’s law is still in force today.)
Sin is the breaking of God’s law, the Ten Commandments (1 John 3:4). Therefore, it is a sin to gamble or bet.
Hitting the Jackpot
Sports betting is called the “hidden addiction” because even family members cannot detect it. A father can do it from the privacy of a portable device while in the living room playing with his children. Addiction experts warn that sports betting could become the next opioid epidemic (The Hill).
Gambling and betting addictions cause serious problems: financial distress, fractured marriages, neglected children and even criminal activity as those who face financial ruin resort to desperate measures to recoup their losses.
But only about 1 percent of all gamblers and bettors become addicted. What if you are able to keep your habit under control, sticking to a reasonable budget or only risking a paltry sum each time you partake? What if you don’t think your mindset while gambling or betting is tainted by covetousness?
Think of it this way: Every winning ticket is someone else’s agonizing loss. Someone hitting the jackpot means someone else went hungry, missed a mortgage payment, had a car repossessed, or declared bankruptcy. It is impossible to profit from gambling or betting without capitalizing on the financial destruction of millions of addicts.
So what if those people consented to risking it all? Why should we prosper thanks to their sins? How is that fulfilling Christ’s command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves? (Matthew 22:39).
In Luke 16, “Jesus Christ taught that the wise handling of money reflects some of the wisdom, discretion, self-mastery and planning needed for success in God’s Kingdom” (“Get a Grip on Your Finances”).
With this in mind, consider verse 12: “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” By gambling or betting, are we showing ourselves trustworthy with the money of others? Gambling and betting teach us to gleefully collect winnings based on others losing their money.
The late theologian and educator Herbert W. Armstrong often described the two divergent ways of life: God’s give way and Satan’s get way. Gambling and betting are driven by greed and the desire to get, without any thought of giving, serving, sharing with or loving others.
Ethical Ways to Profit
The entire gambling and betting system exists because millions of people parted with hard-earned cash and received absolutely nothing in return.
“It is possible to rightfully acquire money and property 1) by gift, 2) by labor or 3) by fair exchange. Gambling violates all three rules. No real value is produced and no service given. Gambling adds nothing positive to the work, wealth, or happiness of the individual or the community” (Plain Truth, April 1966).
While gambling certainly violates all three rules, betting might seem to fall under the second point. We might say we researched and “labored” for hours to bet on the winning teams, but we would still be gaining from someone else losing. We would still be producing no real value and providing no service to the ones whose money we took.
Gift, labor, fair exchange—all three of these ethical ways to profit involve both parties receiving something positive. Givers feel happier. Laborers receive compensation. Traders part with an item but gain one they desire even more.
With gambling and betting, only one party gains. The other party walks away upset about losing—or dives right back in to another ill-advised risk and likely loses even more.
God condemns the “get rich quick” mentality so common in the world today. “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent” (Proverbs 28:20). Making haste to be rich—what better way to describe the twin sins of gambling and betting?
“The bottom line is that any and all forms of gambling corrode our character to one extent or another—and that’s why gamblers always lose, even when money is won …” (“No Gambling Allowed”).