Theologically Sound. Culturally Relevant.

Is sports wagering a sin?

This question was asked on the Steve Deace Show, and Steve firmly presented a case that sports wagering is not a sin. To summarize his reason, sports wagering in and of itself is a speculative market, like the stock market. This would equate betting on an outcome of a sporting event the moral equivalent of betting on the quarterly earnings of a fortune 500 company. Going down this line of reasoning, one would have to question the ethics of purchasing insurance, which is a bet that one will befall certain harm. In an episode of The Simpsons, Ned Flanders is left in a bad situation when he didn’t have insurance because he believed it was gambling, taking his legalism to its logical conclusion.

If we are going to draw a distinction between gambling and wagering, it would have to be on the basis of knowledge as opposed to random chance. Rolling dice or placing pennies in a slot machine is a matter of mere chance. Such reliance on chance invites the idolatry that comes with superstition. This is different than sports wagering which involves a degree of skill. It takes skill to research teams and conditions that would make spreads more or less favorable investments. There is also the degree in which sports wagering enhances the experience of watching a sporting event like a casual drink or cigar would, placing such wagering among permissible pleasures.

Like any other permissible pleasure, there are risks of sin involved and associations thereof. And this is not to go in line with the anything not God is an idol fallacy. For instance, because sports wagering is a high risk investment endeavor, the risk of one neglecting his family financially from an unprofitable portfolio of bets. But the risk of the investment has no bearing on the sinfulness of it. To bet on a David against a Goliath, however unfavorable is not the issue. The moral questions are one of character. Can someone place wagers without destitution to his family or neglecting his duties as spiritual head of the household. This cannot be said of drunkenness, prostitution, or other vices.

The same arguments for sport wagering being a sin would furthermore apply to entrepreneurship being a sin. For starting a business is a high risk investment, certainly if you are going to make a career of it. And while some make a career out of sports wagering, it otherwise is a side hustle.

The concern of sports wagering being a sin are an instance of accidental legalism whereby one conflates wagers with strictly chance based gambles such as casting lots. This presupposition of gambling being a sin in and of itself is quite also dubious in Scripture.

Casting lots is a biblical practice not only used by pagans (Jonah) but also by Old Testament kings and prophets as well as the early church (Matthias). However, unlike other vices, the Bible does not condemn gambling as a sin per se. Much that surrounds gambling such as drunkenness, debauchery, and the promise of easy money are condemned by Scripture, but not betting, casting lots (Proverbs 16:13), or even chance based outcomes.

The Bible does not hold hastily acquired money in high regard, though what counts? Proverbs 13:11 depending on the translations could be about easy money (ESV), fraud (NASB), gained dishonestly (NKJV), or vanity (KJV). This verse applies to scams in all translations, but some more than others could it be stretched to apply to gambling. Even less so could it apply towards sports wagering which is a speculative market that is the most transparent about the likelihood of outcomes. (Note: there is a mathematical formula to convert American Moneyline into percentages).

Seeing that the sinfulness of gambling, in and of itself, is dubious, and exploring the logical conclusion of declaring speculative markets to be sinful, it is not biblically based to declare sports wagering to be a sin. Sports wagering in and of itself is a permissible pleasure that in the most cases should remain a side hustle that does not financially burden one’s household, if one is to partake.


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2 Responses

  1. My family does a weekly football pool. The winner gets $10. Technically it is sports betting. But, we all live in different parts of the country and it keeps us all in touch on a weekly basis. It is helping us remain a family. I’d go almost as far as saying its a little blessing, that without we may lose touch with each other. If it was a sin I’d know. It is not. Now, betting a weeks pay when I have mouths to feed, that’s a different story, and I’d never even consider it. Thanks again Ray.

  2. There are no verses that prohibit gambling so long as other prohibitions and principles are observed. For those who believe that there is no such thing as chance (most reformed folks), then the results of each spin of the wheels is pre-known and pre-ordained. Each participant is willfully participating.

    There are some other things that can accompany gambling halls which are problematic for Christians, but I choose not to go to those places. We have some very clean Indian casinos in Oklahoma which are night and day different from the ones in Louisiana. I take my parents to the Oklahoma casinos where they only gamble what they can afford. So far nobody can give me a clear Biblical reason not to do so.

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