“There is an infinite chaos which separates us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up.”
Blaise Pascal knew his odds. Always bet on the unknown, unproven, unseen, and yet probable. He wagered an entire philosophical system on this house of cards, the eponymous Pascal's Wager, arguing that the gains of believing in God (with minimum investment and sacrifice, such as a prayer or the rejection of luxury) much outweigh the eventual infinite losses of lacking in faith (Hell, eternal damnation, and the likes). In following Pascal's reasoning, we will turn the wheel of fortune on a reoccurring question: Is gambling a sin?
A Biblical Case For Gambling
An instant reference to the Bible, the word “sin” applies to such an unfairly wide spectrum of enterprises and behaviours, thoughts and inclinations, that it's truly a miracle the scriptures do not particularly condemn the act of gambling. In no specific words is hitting the reels forbidden.
On the contrary, the Old and New Testaments contain confounding pockets and twists of mystery on the topic. In biblical times, people would be casting lots, a practice similar to the modern flipping of the coin (although many would argue that Chance might well carry a double-headed coin and be called Two-Face, since loss encounters the punters on both sides of the toss).
Casting Lots, Bible-Approved
Crucial decisions were left to chance. God's Will was to be interpreted in the provident arrangement of sticks, flat stones, and a primitive version of dice, however they might fall to the ground.
In the wake of the crucifixion, Roman soldiers would cast lots for Jesus' garments.
"Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.
God would instruct the apostles to elect a fill-in for the betrayer Judas by toss of dice and the Israelites were to cast lots in order to determine the division of land under Joshua.
Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the LORD, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions. (Joshua chapters 14-21)
Is it a sin to gamble or cast lots? God doesn't seem to mind games of chance. However, there are those who will not take the Bible word for word and who will distil its commandments to make them relevant to the modern day.
After all, the creators of the Bible couldn't forecast the proliferation of casinos, the addictive online gambling, and a slew of other tantalizing temptations girdling the sprawling sin cities of the world.
Is It a Sin to Gamble?
It all depends on whom you ask. Bible purists or liberal theologians, professional moralists or gambling laymen, casino operators or priests?
One given is that the face of sin has changed over time. But not so much its core basis.
By definition, sin is “a transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.” By scriptural terms and conditions, the human condition is cloaked in the original sin.
We can't it shake it off, no matter if we live free of vice or never miss one Sunday sermon.
In 1726, gambling was dotted with the meaning "to risk something of value on a game of chance". There's no reference to it in the times of Christ.
But neither do pornography, the Dark Web, illegal drugs or online video chats appear among the apostles' gospels. One looking for guidance within the pages of the big book will simply have to comb the bible for clues, predictions of future vices and recipes on how to overcome 21st-century temptation.
In the light of these clues, is gambling a sin? The Christian God may have imparted some tip-offs on how to view gambling if only one can read between the lines, theologians argue.
So here's how the ten commandments of gambling would sound like if a modern, anti-establishment Martin Luther would nail the onerous thesis on the doors of Trump's Plaza Hotel and Casino. Oh, wait! That temple has already fallen!
The 10 Commandments of Casino Gambling
1. Thou shalt not make the local casino your God!
Be a bit of a doubting Thomas when you enter a casino. The best gambling venues are dubbed a true paradise on earth, and expert designers must have made Truman Show their guru flick since they know just how to fumble with lighting, symmetry in layout, color, and spatial clustering to get you hooked until the last cent.
Time is obliterated here- there are no clocks adorning the walls. The outside world doesn't exist- no more windows into the life of the living. Nothing else matters but your odds at the faro table.
There are studies like the Casino Décor Effects on Gambling Emotions and Intentions and The Effects of Ambient Odors on Slot-Machine Usage in a Las Vegas Casino; and classics of the industry such as Bill Friedman's Stripping Las Vegas: A Contextual Review of Casino Resort Architecture that succeed in inducing the rich-man feeling even as your pockets are emptied out.
Walk into a casino for pleasure and entertainment, but don't dwell longer than your budget holds.
2. Thou shalt not make idols of illegal casinos!
Just as the Dark Web is the Mariana Trench of the Internet you lightly bathe every second of your day, illegal casinos from a broader network that trespasses into the regulated gambling industry.
Estimates from 2013 value the illegal sector at over $500 billion per year.
As there is no record of any transaction being made, the relationship between bookie and gambler is sewn out of mutual trust and nothing more. Moreover, the game might be fixed beforehand. Where's the thrill and honor in that?
3. Thou shalt not cheat!
Do not proceed like the Russians! Although the country has sent gambling to the other side of law due to continuous mob-related cheating and illegal gambling, a St Petersburg team of hackers just crossed the Pond and emptied an army of slot machines across the US in 2014 by interfering with their random number generators.
They were eventually caught and now face long-term prison sentences. Needless to say more, fear earthly repercussion and do not cheat!
4. Thou shalt remember the odds, to keep them holy!
Follow Blaise Pascal's advice. Love the pure randomness of the roulette. Turn the other cheek around and fold a losing Pai Gow Poker hand. Trust the math in a game of blackjack.
5. Thou shalt honor your bottom dollar! Never give it away lightly!
Never jump into any uncalculated risks. If you've hit a bad case of hunches-over-reasoning, just walk out of the casino or detach yourself from the computer screen and take a breath of fresh air.
Remember the unpaid bills and the unfed children! Don't raise your stakes over your bankroll. A slot machine investment is definitely not one of the bare necessities.
And gambling purely for money does count as a sin, as far as the Bible is concerned.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.(1 Timothy 6:10)
6. Thou shalt not hedge your bets!
You will want to lock in a win, but hedging your bets doesn't count as a wise decision. Most games usually carry a high house edge, for one. Here are those archetypal cool casino games and their house edges:
- Blackjack: 0.5%
- Baccarat: 1.24%
- Craps; 1.41%
- Roulette (American): 5.5%
- Roulette (European): 2.70%
- Pai Gow Poker: 1.46%
- Keno: 25%+
- Slot Machines Progressive: 5-17%
7.Thou shalt not commit side bets!
The house edges above still keep within common-sense, but other games will make your losses pile up fast as they carry an edge to the house as much as 25%.
Is gambling a sin if you do it ignorantly? It's certainly not a bliss.
8. Thou shalt not steal to bet!
Gambling addiction can propel anyone down the dark alleys of embezzlement, duplicity, and theft. The potently compulsive slot machines plus a longing for easy money can easily turn into an overpowering influence in your life, shadowing all else that matters.
And are you ready to sacrifice the necessary in a mad hope of winning the unneeded?
9. Thou shalt not play out of greed!
Gambling out of mere entertainment cannot be condemned as a sin, but not many people garner the power to stop in their tracks when intoxicated by a rollercoaster ride. Which takes us to the final tenth commandment!
10. Thou shalt not covet beyond what's ethical!
No one likes a covetous attitude, less so the prescriptions of the Bible. The Tenth Commandment explicitly states “No dice!” if your reason for gambling involves forbidden and fraudulent craving.
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."(Exodus 20:17)
In the end, is gambling a sin if it wasn't explicitly cited as one of the 10 commandments by God's thundering voice as Moses fought to keep his composure and steady hand while in a daze of smoke, earthquakes and the blast of an exceedingly loud trumpet? Pascal wasn't willing to bet his afterlife on it. Or do you care to raise the stakes?