There is no disputing the fact that gambling can be addictive and financially ruinous. In some cases, compulsive gamblers might even neglect their family, ruin their physical and mental health, and turn to crime to support their habit.

But even if these problems are not widespread and there is relatively little chance they would ever happen, some people still oppose gambling because they see it as a wasteful, immoral vice or sin with horrible odds of winning that takes advantage of those least able to afford it.

So Christians should support gambling laws, right?

Of course not.

Some religious conservatives must not have gotten the memo.

The Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Focus on the Family all recently spoke out in opposition to a bill that would ostensibly legalize online poker.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012, which was never actually introduced, was co-authored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senator John Kyl (R-Ariz.). Time simply ran out to get the bill through Congress in 2012. "I am disappointed," said Reid, who served as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981, but "remain committed to this issue and it will be a priority for us in the new Congress."

A draft of the bill did leak out in September, and can be seen here, as well as a summary of the bill here.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission "steadfastly opposes your efforts," wrote its president, Richard Land, to Senator Kyl in a December 5th letter. Said Land:

We cannot support any effort that grants government sanction to any form of gambling.

Your bill not only does that but also creates a regulatory mechanism that is certain to be used to introduce other forms of Internet gambling in the future.

No amount of regulation or taxation could make such legalization a winning proposition for America.

We know all too well the destructive power of online gambling. It is ruinous not only to those who engage in the practice but also to their families and society as a whole. With its addictive lure, Internet gambling often leads to broken marriages, child neglect, and depleted finances, among other devastating consequences.

Land had previously written to Representative Joe Barton (R-Tex.) after he introduced a bill in the House to legalize online gambling.

"Pastors regularly see the destructive impact of gambling on families and children," said National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson in a Dec. 11th statement. "Those problems will increase if gambling moves from buildings to home computers."

"This is being disguised as a protective bill, if you will, that would limit gambling, but in fact … this is just a precursor bill" to opening the Internet to casino gambling a few years from now, said Chad Hills, gambling analyst for Focus on the Family, in a December 11th online interview.

The proposed Reid/Kyl bill would have legalized online poker in the sense that it reaffirmed the illegality of most online gambling in the United States and create a bureaucracy in the Treasury Department, the Office of Online Poker Oversight (OOPO), to assign licenses to online poker platforms and approve as "qualified bodies" to issue licenses states and Indian tribes. In other words, the bill would have further increased the federal government’s regulatory oversight of the gambling industry.

But that’s not all, one analysis of the bill said it was

a self-serving piece of legislation that protects large Nevada-based casinos at the expense of consumer choice. The bill in effect criminalizes just about any other form of online wagering, while providing a tiny carve-out for online poker companies in a way that protects Nevada against competition from any other state in the nation.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal described the bill as "a priority for several Nevada casino companies seeking a lucrative new and national market for their brands and for poker players seeking legal and federally regulated online games accompanied by consumer protections."

But let’s assume for a moment that the bill would have abolished all federal government restrictions and regulations relating to online gambling of any kind. Should Christians then have opposed the bill because it weakened gambling laws?

Of course not.

Note that I did not ask the question: "Should Christians support gambling?"

The nature of gambling and its negative effects are well known. And certainly every Christian is familiar with the biblical account of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Christ’s garments after they crucified him (Matthew 27:25).

The decision to gamble or not to gamble should always be an individual decision, made on the basis of culture, morals, religion, risk aversion, and financial status, and in consultation with family, friends, church leaders, and economists.

The decision to gamble or not to gamble should never be a government decision.

The question is whether Christians – individually, or collective through the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, or Focus on the Family – should support gambling laws.

There is a huge difference between opposition to gambling and opposition to gambling laws. It is the difference between paternalism and individualism, between statism and liberty, between the nanny state and a free society, and between compulsion and personal responsibility.

One can vehemently oppose all forms of gambling and yet at the same time just as stridently oppose all forms of gambling laws.

First of all, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government regulate or prohibit any form of gambling. Just like the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to regulate or prohibit any other vice, immoral activity, sin, or bad habit. Christians who support gambling laws, at least on the federal level, are anti-Constitution, anti-Founding Fathers, and anti-American; that is, they are opposed to everything they claim to revere and hold sacred.

Second, it is not the purpose of government at any level to prevent people from wasting their money, taking excessive risk, having bad habits, engaging in vice, acting immorally, or making bad decisions. It is a perversion of government to do so. Laws that regulate or prohibit gambling are impossible to reconcile with a limited government and a free society.

Third, in the words of the famed nineteenth-century classical-liberal political philosopher Lysander Spooner, vices are not crimes:

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

But most importantly, from a theological perspective, there is no warrant in the New Testament for Christians to support gambling laws. There is no support in the New Testament for the idea that Christians should seek legislation to criminalize any victimless crimes. As I wrote in my article "Should Christians Support the War on Drugs?":

It is not the purpose of Christianity to change society as a whole outwardly; it is the purpose of Christianity to change men as individuals inwardly.

I believe that Christians have for the most part failed to fulfill their calling. Instead of making converts and instructing them in the biblical precepts of Christian living, they turn to the state to criminalize what they consider to be immoral behavior. Instead of changing people’s minds about what is and what is not acceptable in society, they seek to use the state to change people’s behavior. Instead of being an example to the world, they want to use the state to make the world conform to their example. Instead of educating themselves and other Christians about what is appropriate behavior, they rely on the state to make that determination. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they want the state to assume those roles. Instead of minding their own business, they mind everyone else’s business.

I referenced above Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals. He opposed the legality of online gambling because "pastors regularly see the destructive impact of gambling on families and children." He believes that "those problems will increase if gambling moves from buildings to home computers." But if Anderson were just as concerned about the destructive impact of divorce on families and children and how divorce has increased among Christians over the years, then perhaps we could take him more seriously.

It is unfortunate that many Christians look to the state to enforce their moral code. One need not teach his children not to gamble when it is much more expedient to clamor for laws that make it illegal to do so.

Originally posted on on January 7, 2013.

  • David

    Is Gambling per say ever even clearly identified as being immoral in the Bible? As a Christian who considers himself a libertarian even though I wouldn’t quite fit the strict Rothbardian standard, I wouldn’t support a gambling ban even if it were a clear moral wrong, its still victimless. That said, I’ve never understood the social conservatives here. At least homosexuality is condemned in the Bible. At least drugs are implied to be wrong in the Bible (The Bible condemns drunkenness, which I imagine would be the closest equivalent.) I of course, reject laws against both, but at least those are Biblically wrong. Is gambling even Biblically wrong? To my knowledge the answer is not necessarily a yes to that. So why do Christian conservatives want to ban it?

  • Nope, nope, I’m looking for the best of both worlds, when the GOVERNMENT runs gambling. Yeah, that’ll work out well.

  • David

    The fact that the state has a lottery while not allowing privately consenting individuals to do their own lotteries is clearly an absurd and immoral policy, but one that is fairly easy to understand, its statist selfishness… they want a cut.
    I don’t even have that much of an issue with a government run lottery, its the absolute best kind of “Tax” since its actually the government providing a service and allowing you to choose if you want to participate or not. I don’t care how much they tax the statist lottery as long as nobody is required to participate.
    But they have absolutely no right to regulate any privatized gambling while doing so.
    My position is that even if these laws have any basis in Biblical morality, they still shouldn’t be done by legislation, but frankly, I don’t see anything (Intrinsically) wrong with gambling at all.

  • John Cotton

    “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.”


    Vices is not a issue only individual. Vices reduce the ability to work, study. Promiscuity, drugs, gambling, etc. turn people into animals and civilizations disintegrate.

  • GrayCat

    But that is an individual choice, and if vices prevent someone from supporting himself, should that be criminalized? If you are not forced to support him, why is it criminal?

    Civilization is not disintegrated by vice; it’s disintegrated by making criminals of people who are not criminals, and criminally forcing you and me to foot the bill.

    The issue is rulers vs. no rulers.

    Who among humanity is qualified, and has the right, to rule any other human being? This is the the issue.

    No one has the right to force anyone else not to have vices. To give someone that power to rule others and rob them to pay for someone else’s lesser vices is the worst vice of all. And if you look at history, you will find THAT is what disintegrates civilizations.

  • David

    Of course the people who want to outlaw vice would never dare suggest that their own vice should be outlawed.
    I forget who said it but it was someone on LRC, until you accept the right of the heroin junkie, however distant his activities may seem from your day to day activity, you’ve got no right to demand your own liberty.
    Vices should never be crimes. Spooner is dead on as is whoever that LRC writer was.

  • John Cotton

    “No one has the right to force anyone else not to have vices. To give
    someone that power to rule others and rob them to pay for someone else’s
    lesser vices is the worst vice of all. And if you look at history, you
    will find THAT is what disintegrates civilizations.”

    Then we will look at History:
    – If you read the Old Testament stories about how the Ancient Israelites destroyed wicked nations around them.
    – If you to look how the Germans (that according to Tacitus in Germania, had more pudency) destroyed the wicked Roman Civilization.

    All the wicked societies disintegrate.

  • Virtuous peoples will prosper, true, but a people that endues the state with the power to regulate all manner of personal behavior is not virtuous. The point is not that a state encourages people to “misbehave,” the point is that we do not want to have a state that has such power in the first place. The church is a far better influence upon personal morality than the state.

    Regarding your historical points:

    (1) It is not relevant that God commanded the ancient Israelites to destroy a wicked nation. Besides, they were being destroyed because they were violent, idolatrous societies, not because they happened to have a whore house.

    (2) There were many other mitigating factors besides behavior standards that would cause a government to collapse. Correlation is not causation.

  • GrayCat

    If you look at specifically why the Israelites were themselves destroyed through the agency of other, “wicked” societies, you will discover what is “wicked” in God’s eyes. Read, for instance, Isaiah 56 through 59, to see God’s own definition of His future Israel, and why He destroyed ancient Israel.

    None of it touches on personal “vices.” It does center on violence and hypocrisy.

    The Roman empire was destroyed because of their overweening arrogance and oppression of the peoples they conquered. They had confiscated so much, and had “subdued” and enslaved so many “primitive” enemies they discounted the abilities and determination of those subject peoples. Just like the American government is doing today.

    And meanwhile, back at home, the cost of maintaining the empire’s outposts meant the people in Rome were forced to nearly starve to outfit the army and keep the crown in the style to which it had become accustomed. Hence the ploy to keep the lid on the domestic unrest through “bread and circuses.”

    It all boils down to the lust of power to rule, by force and violence. It is this Jesus resisted in the desert of His temptation. It is this God spells out His own anger and revulsion at. It is this the Israelites insisted on at 1 Samuel 8. Just so they could be like the other nations.

    This, according to God, is the true wickedness He hates.

    The “little vices” of individuals are not crimes, and they are to be overcome by individuals themselves, not criminalized and punished by some human government.

    Jesus died for us as individuals. For the forgiveness of our individual sins. He did not die for “America,” or Great Britain, or Syria, or the modern secular state of Israel. We are each to deal with our personal vices, without looking to stamp out, personally or through using human government, our neighbor’s.

  • John Cotton

    We will look is “wicked” in God’s eyes. Reading Isaiah:

    “But you—come here, you children of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” (Isaiah 57:3)

    “Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols. Forsaking me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide; you made a pact with those whose beds you love, and you looked with lust on their naked bodies.” (Isaiah 57:8)

  • The state enforcing morality!?! As a Christian, that statement alone makes me wince.

  • GrayCat

    “We” will look wicked if we do not force other people not to “look” wicked?!

    Have you forsaken God? Do you worship pagan “symbols” in secret? Do you make pacts with “those whose beds you love,” and “look with lust on their naked bodies”?

    If not, how in the world will you “look wicked” to God?

    Ezekiel 3; 18; 33: God says over and over again that EACH man will be held accountable and judged FOR HIS OWN SIN, not the sins of anyone else, nor will anyone else be punished for your sins.

    So how exactly is letting each person live his/her own life, answerable to God alone, while you live your own making YOU “look wicked” in God’s eyes?

    Where in Scripture does God say it is mandatory — or even permissible — for Christians to create, enable, or participate in a government/state that judges and punishes others for “looking wicked” in God’s eyes?