What Religion Says About Gambling

  • Updated
  • By Tracy Doyle
religion says about gambling

Gambling may be a popular pastime in the modern world, but it's by no means a new concept. The way we gamble may have evolved, but gambling is often accepted as one of the oldest forms of entertainment.

Luck and fate orientated rituals are documented in some of the oldest religious books and texts.

Which is interesting as for some, gambling may be considered wrong or a sin, but do religious beliefs on gambling support this argument?

Before we look at how religion views gambling, we feel it's important to clarify that we're talking about gambling as being a pastime enjoyed by many for the sole purpose of entertainment and as always, anyone who does gamble should always play responsibly.  

So, what do the five major religions in the world say about gambling and how do the opinions and beliefs about gambling vary between different religions?

Hinduism

Despite a dice game forming a large part of one of the major texts in the Hindu belief system, Hinduism tends to view gambling negatively.

Gambling for entertainment would likely be frowned upon in the Hinduism belief and in some Hindu practices gambling of any kind is forbidden, while other sects consider the motivations and outcomes of gambling to decide its morality.

It is in the Hindu text the Mahabharata, thought to have been written in the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, that the dice game we mentioned forms an important part of the second book, the Sabha Parva.

In the Sabha Parva, or the book of the Assembly Hall as it is otherwise known, the king Yudhishthira is tempted into playing a game of dice in order to conquer the kingdom.

During this dice game, Yudhishthira is tricked into giving away his entire kingdom and his family are sent into exile for 12 years.

Buddhism

As one of the world’s oldest religions, Buddhism is recognised as being one of the more adaptable and flexible religions. So, it may come as no surprise that Buddhism has a fairly relaxed approach to gambling. Buddhism categorises gambling into three types, recreational, habitual and addictive.

While extreme or addictive gambling is not condoned in the Buddhist faith, gambling for recreational and even habitual purposes is accepted, players are however encouraged to be cautious when making bets to ensure they are playing responsibly and avoid crossing the line into addictive gambling.

Interestingly, given the relaxed views on gambling in the Buddhist faith, the running of lotteries and raffles nor the buying of tickets for these can be used to raise funds for Buddhist organisations.

Judaism

The practice of gambling does not feature heavily in Judaic texts. However, playing for money was traditionally frowned upon by authorities and professional gamblers were not seen as reliable witnesses in a court law, as they were not deemed to create anything of worth.

That said, the Torah does mention the casting of lots, the practice of using dice or different length sticks to make decisions, similar to how in the modern world we flip a coin, the casting of lots features in the story of Jonah and the Whale.

It's worth mentioning that Hanukkah celebrations often include the dreidel, a spinning top game, usually played in a family setting, where players bet small amounts of money on a particular outcome.

Also in some synagogues, celebration and a degree of gambling are encouraged at Purim, a Jewish celebration that commemorates Esther’s saving of the Jews in Persia.

Jewish beliefs suggest that providing it is for a good cause, fundraising activities can include lotteries and raffles.

Leader of Conservative Judaism in the UK, Rabbi Louis Jacobs, stated that playing cards, betting on horses and taking part in games of pure chance are accepted in Judaism as long as people are careful and responsible.

Christianity  

The Bible often references the practice of casting of lots, which as we mentioned earlier is the practice of using methods such as the rolling of dice to make decisions without bias.

One of the most notable mentions of the casting of lots is in the book of Exodus when Joshua determined where 12 tribes would settle disputes by using this method.

It's also been stated by gospel writers that at the crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman soldiers cast lots to decide who would get his clothing.

Another mention in the Bible comes when deciding who to replace disciple Judas Iscariot with. His replacement St Matthias was chosen by casting lots.

It's also common practice for Christian churches to use methods such as raffles to raise money for the repairs or maintenance of the church and church fetes often feature games such as tombolas to support their fundraising efforts.

Islam  

Gambling is usually considered forbidden (or haram) in Islam. However, the Quran does allow gambling in certain circumstances, usually when it is a guaranteed win.

This supports the belief of not being wasteful with money and to appreciate the hard work that is involved in acquiring wealth.  

The Prophet Muhammad said in the Sunan Abu Dawud that  “Wagers are allowed only for racing camels or horses, or shooting arrows.” So while gambling is typically frowned upon in Islam, some exceptions do apply.

Although it's believed that these exceptions were included to help encourage early Muslims to be ready to defend themselves and not solely for entertainment.  

Gambling is forbidden in many Muslim countries, and failure to adhere to these laws can result in penalties including fines and imprisonment.

Countries such as the Arabian Gulf have a more relaxed view of gambling. Tourists and non-believers are permitted to gamble under strict supervision, but these relaxed rules are not extended to Muslims.

While each religion seems to take its own stance on gambling, it is a common theme throughout the belief systems that gambling for entertainment is generally deemed to not be too problematic, providing players are careful and gamble responsibly. However, extreme gambling or addictive gambling is not permitted and is seen as a big problem.