Almost every Christian today knows that gambling is a sin. Just ask them!
They know this beyond a shadow of a doubt and such a solid fact can hardly be argued. They know it’s true based on what they’ve been taught from the pew. They know this based on what their Sunday School teachers taught them. They know this based on what their Christian friends say.
The problem is they don’t really know what the Bible says. That is problematic. If Scripture agrees with their views then all is well, but they should at least give God the opportunity to tell them His views before they go off believing everybody else they know.
And it turns out, God doesn’t necessarily agree with everybody who tells Him that gambling is a sin.
A Case Study
One would think that if a conservative who talked and wrote publicly about his faith were caught gambling, his world would come crashing down and the Christians would lose one of their earthly heroes. That is basically what happened in recent history. And it’s worth studying the situation further.
Oh, and we will actually look to see what God says too. It’s a unique concept but why not, after all He did create everything in the universe so perhaps we could pay some attention to Him before we’re done with the subject.
Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues Might Have a Cracked Spine
William Bennett served as the United States Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988. He also served as the Drug Czar under President George H. W. Bush. He was the author of several bestselling books, most notably The Book of Virtues. He is a George Bush, Sr. liberal but his book made some conservative values public. In spite of his record of being a Lefty, he became somewhat defined by and known for the book.
A while back, casino records were made public that showed William Bennett’s decade-long gambling pattern. This revelation got many of his admirers cringing and his detractors celebrating. The news reports consistently alluded to how his family-values and Christian conservative values conflict with his casino actions during a decade or so.
Mr. Bennett’s Religion is Catholic
With Bingo being available in many Catholic parishes, as well as the idea of gambling not being looked upon too adversely by that religion, Mr. Bennett is not being inconsistent in his religion. Nevertheless, Mr. Bennett’s admirers cross the religion divide so much that he probably has more fundamentalists in his camp (such as Southern Baptists) than Catholics.
And the fundamentalists are generally opposed to gambling – they are really opposed.
Mr. Bennett faced a hard decision. He could not afford to lose his conservative audience and yet he is in real danger of doing so if he has not lost it already. He certainly paid a price for his gambling far and above any losses he may have sustained in the casinos.
As a side note, the casinos scrambled to locate the source of the leak; Park Place Entertainment, (then) owners of Bally’s and Paris Resorts, were named as one of Bennett’s locales. Those establishments and the others which Newsweekand other media outlets mentioned, who in the past prided themselves in their players’ privacy, faced a monumental public relations scare (second only to Bennett’s) when their more secretive players make a decision whether to remain players there or to move to casinos that honor the secrecy they’ve entrusted in those casinos.
Millions Wagered, Millions Lost, How Much Won?
A Newsweek article once described how Bennett lost “as much as $8 million in a ten-year period.” The amount is certainly shocking to most who can’t imagine such a loss. One must remember, however, that Bennett is a high-income individual whose gross annual income probably rests comfortably in the double-digit millions. Taken in that light, his losses were not relatively very much for the man or his family.
But were they losses? A knowledge of gaming, casino tax statements, and play-through makes that suspect and probably entirely wrong. Plus, the loss is relative.
For example, more critical to the amount he lost is how much he won but Newsweek showed little energy in seeking to discover that amount. Absolutely no mention was made of the winnings Bennett received during the decade. He certainly didn’t play $8 million over the past ten years without a single win.
Each casino must give a W-2G tax form on all wins over $1,199. In playing more than $8 million through the high-limit machines he played, Bennett would have received a very large number of W-2G tax forms to offset some, all, or more than he lost. And he would have been paid all wins under $1,199 without the tax record being given to him.
Newsweek stated that Bennett enjoyed Video Poker. Playing Video Poker perfectly on fair-returning machines nets 99.5% to 102% over time. That means that, over the decade Bennett played, his $8 million wagered would have returned him anywhere from $7.95 million to $8.16 million dollars for the effort. In ten years’ time, therefore, he fell in the expected range of losing a maximum of $50,000 to winning $160,000. For a man who makes millions each year, these expected dollar returns certainly does seem to support his claim that it was a relaxing hobby he enjoyed 2 or 3 times per year.
Bennett’s own words, quoted by Newsweek, were, “Over 10 years, I’d say I’ve come out pretty close to even.” The expected return from Video Poker would suggest that he was telling the truth.
Religious Rights and Wrongs
Whether he won, lost, and to what extent is not an issue to those who disagree with what he did. They do not see the size of the sin as being as important as the sin. The religions that frown on Bennett’s actions will be hard-pressed to forgive the man. After all, they had entrusted him to abstain from these things in the first place and he pulled this off for the past 10 years without their knowing. He could ask their forgiveness and he may have gotten it but their trust may not be so fast to return. They were likely to move on to other authors now when they see his books in the racks.
When two Christian-based religions collide, the religion of the Left enjoys the show very much indeed.
How wrong was Bennett? Should he follow his Catholic religion that allows gambling? Should he follow the fundamentalists who perhaps comprise the majority of his audience?
Personally, I don’t care what either religion says. What is important to me is what God says about the matter. He wrote the bestselling book ever published. In it, He addresses money, risk, and financial issues more than a few times.
Casting of Lots
Without a doubt, one of the most-quoted scriptures when the sin of gambling arises is John 19:24:
“They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,’ that the Scripture might be fulfilled…” (NKJV).
Debated by scholars, exactly what is referred to when the Bible mentions “casting of lots” is not conclusively agreed. Nevertheless, the act certainly is related to some kind of game of chance, perhaps the tossing of dice or the drawing of sticks of various lengths.
While He died on the Cross the Roman soldiers gambled for His clothing.
Nothing good can be found in the soldiers’ actions. They were wrong in what they did.
The question then must be asked, what comprised their sin? The stealing of Christ’s clothing was certainly a sin. Did they also sin for gambling? One would think so from the number of people who reference this passage against gambling.
One way to interpret Scripture is to analyze other verses that seem to make similar points.
Perhaps other verses on a subject are clearer; if so, then the context of the first verse can be clearer too. Can one find the casting of lots elsewhere in Scripture?
Yes. Acts 1:26 says this:
“And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (NKJV)
No Roman soldiers are casting the lots here. As a matter of fact, eleven of the men who walked the earth with Jesus Himself, eleven of His very disciples, are the men casting lots here. Are they casting lots for evil? Quite the opposite, they are casting lots to determine who will become the twelfth disciple to replace Judas! To complete the twelve holy men, the first eleven disciples cast lots and chose Matthias.
What admonition did God swiftly bring to these eleven? None. He seems to approve of the act by allowing its use in His book without comment. These are the twelve who will
represent and spread the Gospel to His twelve tribes of Israel. If they had acted wrongly in choosing the twelfth member, He would have been the first to complain. One must conclude that the act of casting lots is not a sin in itself. One can extend that reasoning to support that games of chance are not sinful in and of themselves.
Playing for Money?
It appears that Bill Bennett’s family was unharmed financially by his casino experiences.
Although the stories omit this, perhaps his wife was along with him when he ventured into casinos at times. Could she have sat down next to him and waged a bit herself?
The question now becomes, why are games of chance for financial gain considered to be a sin by so many religions?
The expected returns of Video Poker are fixed and not arguable. Even casual players who practice a few hours before a casino trip hold a huge advantage and can expect far more of a return over players of almost all other games in casinos. Given Bennett’s salary and financial resources, and given his routinely-expected return from Video Poker, it appears certain that he did not risk his family’s future. He says his bills are paid and they have no financial troubles. His wife does not disagree.
If he put gambling ahead of his family’s safety and security, Bennett would be in big trouble. If Bennett had risked his family’s financial certainty, whether he gambled with that money, invested in the stock market, bought real estate, or simply spent too much on haircuts, Bennett would be showing a love for money over that of his wife and family and his addiction would cause him serious trouble and the consequences should be severe.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8:
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
But the amount of his play, while at first seeming to be extraordinarily high to most people, does not compromise his family’s finances when held under scrutiny.
Jesus Himself makes it very clear that (unless spending the money to commit a sin) a man can use his own money to do with as he pleases. Matthew 20:15 says clearly:
“Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?…”
The Big Conclusion
If Jesus says that a man can do with his own money what he wants, then why do many Christians today want to trump Jesus’ wisdom?