Is Gambling a Sin? What the World’s Religions Think

by Jeff Harris
on January 26, 2018

Up until the 2000s, gambling used to be a more taboo subject. And many people kept their betting passions to themselves for fear of being looked down upon.

But attitudes toward gambling have lightened considerably. Two major reasons why include land-based casino saturation and the widespread availability of online gambling sites.

The activity has gradually become more accepted because more people are gambling than ever before.

Nevertheless, major religions still have strong viewpoints on the matter. And I’m going to cover what the five most popular religions think about gambling.

I’ll also come to a conclusion on whether or not you’re committing a sin by wagering.

Buddhism View on Gambling

General Buddhist Beliefs

Siddhartha Gautama (a.k.a. the Buddha) founded Buddhism in the 6th century BC. This religion has since grown to include over 520 million people, giving it the fourth-largest following in the world.

Buddhism is governed by four Noble Truths, including suffering, cause of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path to cessation of suffering.

The Eightfold Noble Path includes the following points:

  • Right view
  • Right thinking
  • Right speech
  • Right conduct
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindfulness
  • Right concentration

All of this makes Buddhism seem like a stiff religion that’s entirely against gambling. But it’s actually one of the more flexible religions in the world, especially when it comes to wagering.

What Do Buddhists Think of Gambling?

Siddhartha Gautama founded Buddhism in Nepal at a time when gambling was socially accepted in his kingdom.

The Tripitaka contains a great deal on the topic of wagering and actually makes distinctions between what is and isn’t acceptable. This contrasts other major religions, which largely condemn the activity as a whole.

Buddhism puts gambling into the following three classes:

  • 1. Recreational
  • 2. Habitual
  • 3. Addictive

Recreational gambling is perfectly fine under the Buddhist philosophy. This forward way of thinking comes from how things were back in Gautama’s day.

Even habitual gambling isn’t considered a sin, per se. But Buddhism does condemn addictive gambling, just like any other major religion.

“There are these six dangers of being addicted to gambling,”

said Gautama.

“In winning, one begets hatred; in losing, one mourns the loss of one’s wealth; one’s word is not accepted in court; one is avoided by both friends and officials; one is not sought after for marriage because people say a gambler cannot support a wife.”

Overall, though, Buddhism is the world’s most tolerant major religion toward gambling.

One break from these lax standards is that gambling shouldn’t be used to raise money for religious organizations. This contrasts Christianity and Judaism, which routinely used lighter forms of gambling (e.g., bingo, lottery) to raise money for churches and communities.

Christianity View on Gambling

General Christian Beliefs

With 2.2 billion followers worldwide, Christianity is the biggest religion on the planet. Christians follow the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus commonly preached against the evils of chasing money. According to Matthew 6:24 of the New Testament, he said that people can’t “serve two masters.”

This references how Christians should worship God above all else and put money at a distant second.

Jesus lived when Palestine was controlled by the Roman Empire. And he often attacked the Roman “moneychangers,” who exchanged foreign coins for temple coins.

Jesus frequently protested against these acts, in addition to the high taxes levied by the Romans. This, combined with his unorthodox religious beliefs (when compared to Romans), led to his death on the cross.

What Do Christians Think of Gambling?

Unlike other religious founders, Jesus didn’t speak on gambling. But you can gain an understanding by looking at his views on money and the suffering of commoners at the time.

Jesus didn’t accumulate wealth to help his political or social position. Instead, he taught his followers that loving God and others was more important than chasing money.

This means that he likely wouldn’t have approved of gambling with the sole intent to win money.

The New Testament also fails to specifically address gambling. But it does contain an excerpt that admonishes greed and pursuing material wealth:

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. A greedy man brings trouble to his family. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

The United Methodist Church offers a notable opinion on gambling. They have their own interpretation of how the New Testament discusses the evils of money.

“Gambling, as a means of acquiring material gain by chance and at the neighbor’s expense, is a menace to personal character and social morality. Gambling fosters greed and stimulates the fatalistic faith in chance,”

states the United Methodist Church’s belief.

“Organized and commercial gambling is a threat to business, breeds crime and poverty, and is destructive to the interests of good government.”

Unlike Buddhism, ancient Christianity doesn’t offer an official statement on where gambling stands. Instead, you need to consider this religion’s take on pursuing riches.

Given that gambling usually involves trying to win money, I assume that Christianity is mildly against it.

Hinduism View on Gambling

General Hindu Beliefs

Hinduism contrasts most religions because the founder is unknown. But what we do know is that this religion started around 2000 B.C. in India.

Hinduism has grown to include 900 million followers, making it the third-largest religion in the world.

This is a flexible belief because there are no core principles that define Hinduism, such as the Ten Commandments. Instead, it’s open to interpretation and the teachings are different throughout the world.

But Hinduism does have the Mahabharata, an epic poem written around the 8th century B.C. that describes some of the religion’s practices.

What Do Hindus Think of Gambling?

The Mahabharata has an interesting passage that discusses King Yudhisthira playing dice. Yudhisthira was tricked into betting his kingdom on the dice game and lost.

His family was exiled from the country for twelve years. The story isn’t so much an attack on gambling, but rather a lesson about dealing with nefarious people.

The Manusmriti, an ancient manuscript that discusses Hinduism, lists gambling as the worse sin a person can commit.

“Drinking, gambling, women (not lawfully wedded wives), and hunting, in that order, he should know to be the very worst four in the group of (vices) born of desire.”

Overall, Hinduism ranks in the middle in terms of its tolerance toward gambling.

Islam View on Gambling

General Islamic Beliefs

Islam officially started in C.E. 610, when the Prophet Muhammad heard the revelations that would become the Holy Quran. This makes Islam the youngest of the five major religions.

Despite its relative youth, this religion has already attracted over 1.6 billion Muslims, making it the world’s second-largest, behind Christianity.

Islam features two types of deeds, including the haram (sinful) and halal (lawful). Gambling is seen as haram and requires severe punishment under Islamic law.

This is just one of the many activities that are viewed with a harsh eye in Islam. Other serious vices include not praying, not fasting during Ramadan, abandoning relatives, murder, homosexuality, adultery, and running from a battlefield.

What Do Islamists Think of Gambling?

The Prophet Muhammad and his followers opposed all forms of gambling. He also mentioned in the Sunan Abu Dawud that there are only two acceptable forms of gambling.

“Wagers are allowed only for racing camels or horses, or shooting arrows,” he said.

Muhammad wasn’t saying that he approved of betting on horses and archery. But these gambling activities were tolerated because they helped Muslims improve their battle skills.

The Quran also discusses gambling in Surah Al-Ma’idah 5:90-91.

“O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?”

Islam looks down on gambling because it’s an easy way to take somebody else’s money. This is similar to Judaism, in that they also believe it’s dishonorable to win money through gambling.

Judaism View on Gambling

General Jewish Beliefs

Judaism started when God made a covenant with Abraham, who’s also a revered Islamic figure. This was the first monotheistic religion to focus on a single divine being, rather than a collection of gods.

Over fifteen million people practice Judaism, making it one of the more popular religions. But this is far less than the other four beliefs on this list possess.

The Jews believe that Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments have since become one of the world’s most important code of ethics.

Rabbis are Jewish religious figures who preach these same morals. Ancient rabbis are also responsible for the Talmud, a collective discussion on moral and ethical issues.

What Do Jews Think of Gambling?

Judaism doesn’t offer a lot of thoughts on the morality of gambling. But the Talmud does feature rabbis discussing how they believe gambling is risky and can lead one to negate their responsibilities.

The Talmud also discusses how gambling is sinful and similar to stealing. The latter is due to the fact that the loser has reluctantly given away their money to the winner.

Older Jewish civilizations looked down on professional gamblers and didn’t consider them reliable court witnesses.

Judaism isn’t totally biased against gambling, though. Hanukah celebrations often feature a dreidel, a spinning top that’s accompanied by small-stakes gambling.

Like Christians, Jews also raise money for synagogues with games of chance, including raffles.

Conclusion

None of the religions that we’ve covered embrace gambling with open arms. But some are definitely more tolerant than others.

Buddhism actually considers recreational gambling to be fine. They’re even willing to let habitual gamblers pass, as long as they don’t become addicted.

Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism don’t spend much time discussing the ills of betting. Instead, it’s merely implied that all three religions frown upon the activity.

But then again, Christianity and Judaism use certain forms of gambling to raise money.

Islam is no doubt the toughest against gambling because the Quran suggests that violators should be punished. Furthermore, Islamists view wagering as a shameless way to win money.

In summary, Islam is the only major religion that’s undeniably against gambling. The other religions I discussed at least tolerate the activity to some degree.

That said, you shouldn’t feel like you’re sinning too badly – if at all – by playing low-stakes casino games, poker, or sports betting.

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