Friday, November 9, 2012

Is gambling a sin or just a lack of self-control?

Today we will look at the influence of religion on self-control with gambling. As counselors we must be prepared to counsel a client that struggles with some sort of self-control issue. It could be drug addiction, alcohol addiction, internet addiction, sex addiction or even an addiction to gambling. But when we look at gambling specifically, we learn that each approach to religion has a different approach of accepting or rejecting gambling addiction.  If you look through the bible to see what it says about gambling, you will see no verse that directly says gambling is wrong. However you will find that gambling violates many biblical principles because it is founded in greed and covetousness.  Kelley writes “The social consequences of gambling -- addiction, crime, bankruptcies and family disruption -- have led opponents to conclude that gambling goes against one of Christianity's fundamental principles…” Gambling is not only based in greed or coveting, but is an illustration of a problem with self-control.
Tochkov found in her studies of self-control that animals preferred a lesser reward in the least amount of time than a greater reward with a longer period of time. Her studies were applied to gambling because every person who gambles, believes that the “wining touch” can be just a few seconds away, and they keep striving for that greater reward. However as we know, in the process people end up losing more than winning because of the predestined odds determined by the casino. The impulses of the animals can be correlated to the impulses of the people. She writes “In summary, the concepts of self-control and impulsivity can be interpreted as a key link between biopsychological experiments with animals and clinical studies with pathological gamblers and substance abusers.” Although her study looks at animals, the desire to have immediate gratification is clearly demonstrated by humans.

This summer, Maryland Live!Casino opened in Arundel Mills Maryland. My friend and I went to check it out and see what all the excitement was about, and in the process I discovered I had a hurting heart for those with gambling addiction. As I walked through the building it was amazing to see how much money was put into the top of the line technology and how much money was being put into each slot machine, all 4,750 of them. (That’s over 6x the amount of computers on Liberty’s Campus.) It seemed people were mindlessly sitting there, and tossing one coin after another into the slots without an ounce of hesitation. I walked in with hundreds of thousands of other people into Maryland’s Live Casino excited to see the new tourist attraction, but personally walked out hurting with a burden for the gambling world around me.  The casino was not filled with tourists, but everyday people, trying to make the millions. The gambling addiction starts with a few innocent rounds but then becomes greater when there is more greed. However one of the other major problems with gambling is the lack of self-control.

            As people, we all struggle with self-control, but our faith in God plays a part of how we handle that struggle. Galatians 5:16 – 26 says
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

In the list of the fruit of the Spirit, self-control comes last. Some say this is because it is the hardest and takes the rest of the fruit to really influence the self-control. The Christian’s self-control is not quickly built, but is built over time. Self-control is not about the struggle, or the punishment of not having nice or fun things, but is about God’s love towards us and Him wanting the best for us. God wants us to have self-control for our benefit, not His. He really knows what is best for us, so practicing self-control is something we should try and practice, and get help if we can't do it on our own through accountability or professional treatment.   When we are aware that our flesh is weak and we need God to help us with self-control, we really are more triumphant and ready to take on the temptations that come our way.

Here is a humorous video of children attempting to practice self-control with delayed gratification, or immediate gratification, with a small reward. Also, above, there is a link to an article on "internet addiction" that aired last night on Rock Center with Brian Williams. I highly recommend this for added discussion.
 Kelley, D.K. (1998) Religions Disagree on Morality of Gambling; Some say it contradicts biblical principles; others say the key to reventing problmes is self-control; Gambling draws divided moral viewpoints, The Salt Lake Tribune, C1. 

Tochkov, K. (2010) Self Control Deficits and Pathological Gambling, International Journal of   Psychological Studies 2. (2). 65-69. 


  1. I was very intrigued by the title of your post. Often times when we discuss addiction, gambling isn’t mentioned or is thrown in at the bottom of the list. However, there are a multitude of people who are struggling with this addiction, and struggle to find the self-control to overcome. As you mentioned, self-control doesn’t just automatically come to you overnight. I think that especially for the new Christian, this is a key point to remember: self-control must be worked on and developed time and time again. As we draw nearer to God, we come to understand that self-control isn’t God’s idea of holding us back from fun, but instead his way of protecting us from the hurts and pains that come along with addiction.

  2. Your thoughts on the subject of gambling seem right on point. Though greed and covetousness are also motivating factors into an addiction to gambling, a key point to discuss with the client is self-control. I would think looking into other areas of his or her life would also indicate a lack of self-control. If the client is able to gain progress in self-control in various areas, he/she would be more likely to practice the discipline in regards to coveting and greed for money. Your post was extremely interesting and tied together many aspects that are pertinent to a counselor’s knowledge! I really enjoyed reading what you have researched and learned on this topic.

  3. I liked the delayed gratification aspect that you integrated. This example of the marshmallows with the children paint a very good picture of what self-control (or the lack of) looks like. Even though it is very simple and humorous, this allowed me to put seriously into context how critical it is to "put off" something view as pleasurable or to not give in at all to temptations that I am faced with. Great post! Speaks further volumes in emphasizing and reiterating the fact that we actually have a choice in our life.

  4. Gambling is always an interesting topic to consider since the very idea of defining gambling can be contested. In fact, defining gambling is important in order to determine what may be acceptable and what is not acceptable. For instance, is a family game of bingo at a reunion which costs a few dollars in order to build a community pot for a winner considered gambling? Is betting on anything for any amount of money for the hopes of gaining money always considered gambling? Or, is it only gambling if you waste all of your money in attempt to win more. What if you just happen to like playing the games and only ever spend a set amount? Is this likened to perhaps playing an arcade game or seeing a movie or even entering a raffle or drawing for a prize, in which you spend a small portion of money in hopes of perhaps winning? As a Christian it is necessary to think through a lot of these things and come to a fuller understanding of what defines gambling and how to learn to be self-controlled. A final point to note, you mentioned the fruit of the Spirit. What is interesting about that is that in the Greek it is in fact a singular noun: "fruit." Thus, all nine of the qualities listed all come together with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, whenever one is truly in the Spirit they always display every one of the qualities, and if one of the qualities is not displayed in any given instance, it is because the person is not currently pursuing being filled with the Holy Spirit and being heavenly minded in that specific moment. God bless.

  5. This post was very intriguing. My younger brother has a friend who is only 18 years old that is already struggling with a gambling addiction. My brother is having a hard time explaning to him why it is wrong. This post was such an encouragement and really an answer to prayer. I am excited to show my brother this post in hopes that he can share with his friend that what he is doing can be harmful to him and those he is close to. Hopefully this can be a witnessing tool as well seeing that this boy is a non-believer. He is trying to fill a void in his heart by finding happiness in material things such as gambling. I know his heart is seeking for what is true, which is Christ.


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