My last post drew a comment from Scott Roche: "Of course gambling is no longer seen as a sin by most Christians. Just out of curiosity, what would you use to justify that it is?" I found the comment last night, but was too tired to respond then. I also wanted time to think about it before writing about it.
It is true that gambling is not directly condemned in the Bible as some other activities are--drunkenness, adultery, and so on. And C.S. Lewis had one of his characters point out in "The Pilgrim's Regress" that God Himself could be considered an inveterate gambler--He takes risks to accomplish His purposes, risks that apparently He considers worthwhile. And on the human level, there are many risk-taking situations in business and other areas that could be thought of as gambling.
But I do think there is a significant difference between the risk-taking mentioned above and the gambling for money--poker in its various forms, slot machines, betting on the horses, numbers games, state lotteries, etc.--that go on today. (The way some people play the stock market could be included too.)
Scott, my first approach to answering your question is to do as Jesus often did and ask you a question in return: How does taking someone's money at cards or with dice fit in with "Love your neighbor as yourself"? Or "Love one another as I have loved you"? How do you seriously love someone and yet take his money? (And if you think the corporations who run the casinos and manage the lotteries are still fair game, go back and look up what Jesus said about the quibbling the scribes and Pharisees used to get around the Law at times. Corporations are a legal fiction in our culture, but they still have people involved--shareholders, employees, management--and they may punish those who lose too much of their money.)
The other conclusion I come to is that gambling for money comes under the heading of "coveting" which is the subject of the tenth Commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Ex. 20:17, NASB) "Anything that belongs to your neighbor" would include his cash. I was taught in a theology class that the Ten Commandments are rooted in the nature of God Himself: He is truth, so lying is wrong; He is faithful, so adultery is wrong; and because He is generous, coveting is wrong. The New Testament both condemns coveting and encourages generosity in the followers of Christ. If a Christian goes into a casino or a "friendly" card game with the expectation of coming out with more money than he carried in, he's probably coveting.
(Of course, I can only say "probably", but God knows the heart--for sure.)
One other standard of evaluation, advanced by Jesus: Look at the fruit. What has been the fruit of gambling in Dearborn County, Indiana? Well, the local governments and the state definitely have more money than before--the town of Lawrenceburg and the county have spent money like drunken sailors for the last ten years (they've also had to fend off attempts by the state to increase its share and reduce theirs). The state seems to go from one fiscal crisis to another, so the casinos have not been a real help. Lawrenceburg and Dearborn County have more problems with drunken driving and crime than they used to--they had to expand the capacity of the local court system to handle the increase. There are a lot of ads offering help for people with gambling problems. And since there are now three riverboat casinos in three consecutive counties, the one in the middle is struggling at times because the other two siphon off so much of the traffic. I really can't say the results are that impressive.
By the way, Scott's statement that "gambling is no longer seen as a sin by most Christians" fits in with something I did say in that last post: that too many churches are full of "churchgoers" rather than disciples of Jesus.