There is no direct prohibition of gambling in Scripture - especially nothing so direct as “Thou shalt not wager upon chance happenings.”  In fact, the casting of lots - equivalent to rolling dice - was a religious practice.  It was “divination,” seeking divine guidance in making a choice or foretelling the future, and so, there is a relationship between gambling and divination in the Bible.

          Joseph was famous in his day for his ability to interpret dreams, and he also told fortunes using a silver cup - maybe by examining wine dregs (like reading tea leaves), but more likely by “scrying” (gazing into a pool of water on a polished metal surface).


When they had gone but a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good?  Why have you stolen my silver cup?  Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he divines?’”

                      Genesis 44:4-5a


Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done?  Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed divine?”

                         Genesis 44:15


          King Ahaz used a bronze altar in divination.  He likely asked a question and then noted the direction taken by the rising smoke to get his answer.


And King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening cereal offering...but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.”                 2 Kings 16:15


          The primary method of divination among ancient Hebrews was by means of two crystal stones kept in a pouch on the chest of the high priest.  One stone was enscribed with the word Urim, meaning “Lights,” and the other stone was labeled Thummim, meaning “Perfections.”  The manner of their use was to give a yes or no answer to an inquiry, such as, “Shall we go to war?”  In such case, the high priest would stand beside the Ark of the Covenant and lift his eyes to heaven.  Then he would make an invocation, “If Yahweh will have the king go to war, give Urim.”  Then he would thrust his hand into his breastplate and bring out a stone.  If it was the Urim stone, the high priest would say, “Yahweh has spoken; the king shall go to war.”  Scriptural references to this means of divination are as follows:


And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before Yahweh.  Thus, Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel upon his heart before Yahweh continually.                      Exodus 28:30


And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of Urim before Yahweh.  At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.

                       Numbers 27:21


Therefore Saul said, “O Yahweh, God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day?  If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Yahweh, God of Israel, give Urim.  But if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim.”  And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.  Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.”  And Jonathan was taken.               1 Samuel 14: 41-42


And when Saul inquired of Yahweh, Yahweh did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.    1 Samuel 28:6


The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.            Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65


          Casting lots was a common means of divination.  When the lots were said to be cast “before Yahweh,” that referred to the use of Urim and Thummim before the Ark of the Covenant or in the Temple.


And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before Yahweh, and there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion.                  Joshua 18:10


Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot.  He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the family of the Matrites was taken by lot.  Finally, he brought the family of the Matrites near, man by man, and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot.  But when they sought him, he could not be found.  So they inquired again of Yahweh, “Did the man come hither?”  And Yahweh said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

                  1 Samuel 10:20-22


          Casting lots outside the temple and without the use of Urim and Thummim, was also done throughout the land of Israel.  This was probably done by the village diviner with marked stones or, possibly, by drawing straws.


The lot puts an end to disputes and decides between powerful contenders.                     Proverbs 18:18


The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from Yahweh.                     Proverbs 16:33


And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.”  So, they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.            Jonah 1:7


And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias.  And he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.              Acts 1:26


          Not all divination was acceptable, as when it was done before pagan deities or put to an unholy use in gambling or fortune telling.


For these nations, which you are about to dispossess, give heed to soothsayers and to diviners, but as for you, Yahweh your God has not allowed you to do so.          Deuteronomy 18:14


So, do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.”        Jeremiah 27:9


The seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame.  They shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. 

                        Micah 3:7


For the teraphim (idols) utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies.  The dreamers tell false dreams, and give empty consolation.  Therefore, the  people wander like sheep.  They are afflicted for want of a shepherd.                 Zechariah 10:2


          The prophet Isaiah condemned pagan divination, such as setting a Table of Fortune for two Syrian gods, Gad (Fortune) and Meni (Destiny).


But you who forsake Yahweh, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Gad (Fortune) and fill cups of mixed wine for Meni (Destiny), I will destine you for the Sword, and all of you shall bow down to the Slaughter.           Isaiah 65:11


          Ezekiel spoke with derision against magic wrist bands, magic head scarves, and the casting of arrows.


And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own minds.  Prophesy against them and say, “Thus says Yahweh God: ‘Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature in the hunt for souls.’”

                   Ezekiel 13:17-18a


For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the intersection of two ways, to use divination.  He shakes the arrows, he consults the teraphim, he looks at the liver.  Into his right hand comes the lot for Jerusalem...        Ezekiel 21:21-22a


          It would seem from these verses, that the Bible was not consistent regarding religious gambling in all its forms.  Some texts approved of using Urim and Thummim and casting lots, as long as these actions were done in the name of Yahweh, but it appears that some of the prophets held all divination in contempt.

          The Jewish Talmud condemned dice players and pigeon racers and ruled that they were not eligible to serve as witnesses.


Monetary cases are judged by three; each litigant selects one judge and then both together select one...A witness may be rejected if he is a relative or otherwise ineligible, but if they are eligible they may not be disqualified.  The following are ineligible: dice-players, usurers, pigeon-fliers, and dealers in produce of the seventh year (when the land should lay fallow).    Mishna


What sin does a dice player commit?  Rammi ben Hamma said: Because the game is a speculation, and a speculation cannot be binding by law, and thus he receives ill-gotten money.  Rabbi Shesheth said: It is not a question of speculation.  The reason is, that gamblers are not concerned with the welfare of the people.  As to pigeon-fliers, who is called a pigeon-flier?  Here is the explanation: a man who says, “If your pigeon overtakes mine, you win.”                  Gemara


          On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), two he-goats were brought before the high priest.  The Talmud prescribed the use of lots for picking the scapegoat - to bear the sins of Israel away into the desert, where they would fall upon the goat-demon (satyr) Azazel.  The second goat was killed and sacrificed for the forgiveness of the nation’s sins.:


There was also an urn with two straws, for drawing lots.  They were made of boxwood, but ben Gamla later made them of gold, for which his name is remembered with praise...He (a deputy priest) shook the urn and brought up two lots.  On one was written “For Yahweh” and on the other was written “To Azazel.”  The deputy was to his (the high priest’s) right, and the Chief of the Fathers to his left.  If the lot “For Yahweh” was in his right hand, the deputy priest would say: “My Master, High Priest, lift thy right hand.”  If the lot “For Yahweh” was in his left hand, the Father of the House of the Temple would say: “My Master, High Priest, lift thy left hand.”  He then put them on the two he-goats and said: “A sin-offering for Yahweh”...He bound a bright red wool ribbon on the head of the scapegoat and turned it to the way it would be sent out.  And the goat that was to be slaughtered, he turned towards the place where it would be sacrificed.

                 Mishna, Chapter IV


          The Talmud mentioned Urim and Thummim as parts of the garments of the high priest.


The High Priest performs the service in eight vestments, while the ordinary priest performs in four - in a robe, trousers, a mitre, and a girdle.  The High Priest adds a breastplate, an apron, a cloak, and a frontlet - in these were the Urim and Thummim of which inquiries were made.  But they inquired only for the king or for the chief of the court (the sanhedrin), or for one who was indispensable to the community.            Mishna, Chapter VII


          Outside the Jewish community, in the rest of the world, gambling was widespread.  In China, a book of fortune-telling or gambling, the I Ching (pronounced “yee jing”), gave readings taken from six bi-colored sticks that were thrown upon the ground.  The sticks might fall in sixty-four different combinations (hexagrams), and the book told what each of the combinations meant.  The I Ching was highly respected as providing sage advice and was accounted as scripture - even to the present time.  Four of these black-and-white colored sticks are displayed on the corners of the Korean flag.

          Egyptian and Roman game boards are among the ancient artifacts of those lands.  But both countries had laws opposed to gambling as effeminating.  (This was likewise the stance of early laws of the English and the French.)  The Bible states that Roman soldiers gambled for the robe that was stripped from Jesus, and there is a Roman gameboard engraved in the pavement stones of the Lithostroton, the court of the Fortress Antonia, where Jesus stood before Pilate and was condemned to die.

          The Prophet Muhammad opposed gambling.  He said in the Quran, “Strong drink, games of chance, idols, and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork” (Surah 5:90).

          Evidently divination was not counted as gambling among the Romans, however, as these terms reveal.


Augury: divination through observation of omens - such things as lightning or the flight of birds.  Modern example: the shadow of a ground hog is a sign of prolonged winter.


Auspices: obtaining signs from the gods (portents, prodigies, marvels) on a proposed undertaking.  A lucky venture is still said to be “auspicious.”


Hepatomancy or Hepatoscopy: divination by inspection of a liver.


Kypomancy: divination by observing tea leaves in a cup.  Ancients examined residues in a cup of wine.


Sortes Homericæ: divination through opening the Iliad or Odyssey at random and reading off some passage.  Homer’s works were the scripture of the Greeks and Romans.


Sortes Virgilianæ: divination through opening the Æneid at random and reading off some passage.  Virgil’s epic poem was treated as scripture by the Romans.  Modern example: Those who open the Bible at random and take a random reading as divine direction are practicing “Bibliomancy.”


          There are many Latin terms that are related to Chance and Fortune:


Fors, fortis (from fero: bring): whatever destiny brings.

1. Chance, hazard, hap.  Terms related to “hap” are: happy, perhaps, mishap, happen, happenstance.

2. Accident.

3. The Goddess of Chance was Fors Fortuna (“Lady Luck”).


Fortuna: that which pertains to Fors.

          1. Chance, hap, luck, fate, fortune.

          2. Good luck, good fortune, prosperity.

          3. Ill luck, mishap, misfortune, adversity.

          4. State, condition, circumstance, fate, lot.

          5. Property, possessions, goods (“He went to seek his fortune.”)


Fortunatus: prosperous, lucky, happy, fortunate.


Sors, sortis:

          1. A lot, a chance, a lottery ticket.

          2. A casting or drawing of lots, a decision by lot.

          3. An oracular response, oracle, prophecy, fortune telling.

          4. Fate, destiny, chance, fortune, condition.

          5. Sort, kind, part, share.


Sortior (to “sort out”):

          1. To cast or draw lots, fix, assign, appoint by lot, allot.

          2. To share, divide, distribute, choose, select, obtain, receive.


Quid Pro Quo: “Something for something,”

          as opposed to Something for Nothing: winning in a game of chance.


          Playing-cards are a good example of how fortune telling and gambling are related.  Playing-cards actually developed from fortune-telling cards, like the Tarot.  The four suits first represented the four cardinal points, the four elements, the four seasons, etc.  Presently they represent the “Four Estates:” Nobility (Diamonds), Clergy (Hearts), Military (Spades/Spears), and Merchants (Clubs/the Medici symbol).

          The terminology of gambling is a part of common language.  “Gamble” comes from “game,” which means sport or play.  A little horse will “gamble” about in the pasture.  Common gambling terms in everyday speech include: deal, bet, stake, luck, hustle, action, cheat, and odds.  The term “pari-mutuel” is a French phrase meaning “mutual bet.”  This is gambling in which winners divide the stakes, less a percentage for the management, taxes, etc.  A gambling broker is called a “book-maker” or a “bookie.”


          Gambling is:

          1. Blind chance, as opposed to skillful activity.

          2. An artificial risk with no useful product.

          3. An artificial risk unnecessary for the welfare of society.

          4. Losing or squandering through betting and wagering.

          5. Playing a game of chance for something of value.

          (Note the three elements essential to the definition.)


          Risk taking is:

          1.Taking a chance of harm or loss (cf. risks of the space program).

          2. Exposing oneself to chance by making a venture.

          3. Jeopardizing or hazarding one’s welfare.


          The risks of life are:

          1. Stocks and bonds: a wager against the economy.

          2. Insurance: a wager against one’s health or lifespan.

          3. Agriculture: a wager against the weather.

          4. Marriage: a risk of incompatibility between two people.

          5. Vocation: a wager on future demand for one’s services.

          6. Travel: a venture subject to an accident.






                    Have I not walked without an upward look

                    Of caution under stars that very well

                    Might not have missed me when they shot and fell?

                    It was a risk I had to take - and took.

                                                                   Robert Frost


          Mathematical Probability:


          “Odds” are the probability of something occuring.

          The probability in winning a coin toss is .5000.

          The probability of a dice shooter winning is .4929.

          The probability of winning on the first throw is 8/36.

          The probability of losing on the first throw is 2/36.


          The science of statistical probability was developed from gambling.  It now serves to take the gamble out of business ventures.


          In religious usage the word “clergy” is from the Greek term kleroi: “lots.”  In the early church, the congregation was broken up into groups or “allotments” assigned to various elders.


Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.              1 Peter 5:2-3


          The Roman Catholic Church justifies gambling.  St. Thomas Aquinas advised: “A man has the right to wager what he has a right to lose.”  A Catholic pamphlet on gambling has the following guidelines:




          1. Always expect to lose, because you probably will.

          2. Never gamble more than you can afford to lose.

                    Take only that amount of money into the game.

          3. Quit when you have lost your limit

                    (also when you have won twice your limit).

          4. Never play on credit.

          5. Avoid games where the level of play is over your head

                    or where you suspect cheating.

          6. Accept your losses as the price of your entertainment

                    and any winnings as an unexpected bonus.


          Mennonites still cast lots to decide church issues.  For example, to select deacons, they will allow several qualified men to draw straws that are inserted into a hymn book.

          Baptist tradition has been against card playing and going to pool halls.  However, there is nothing inherently evil in a game, a sport, a contest, or a race upon which nothing is being wagered.

          Gamblers Anonymous, founded in 1957, aids compulsive, addicted gamblers and insists on total abstinence from games of chance.




  1. A Gift.

          Note: Gifts can: 1) offend and cripple personal integrity if they are too many and too much, 2) leave a “something for nothing” guilt feeling, since people want to earn or merit a reward, 3) be suspect.  Even the gift of salvation is hard for many to accept - as being too easy.

  2. “Finders Keepers.”

  3.Sales Gimmicks (trading stamps, prizes, discounts, “free” items with a set amount of purchases, give-away TV shows)

  4. Gratuities (kick-backs and bribes between business people).

  5. Carnival Games of Skill (ball throw, rifle shoot, ring toss).

  6. Carnival Games of Chance (wheel of fortune, cake walk, fish pond, grab bag).

  7. Flipping or matching coins.

  8. Football pools.

  9. Penny-ante poker, checkers, chess.

10. Bingo, euchre, whist (commonly used by Catholics to raise money).

11. Raffles.

12. Lotteries (sweepstakes, bolito).

13. Dice shooting (craps).

14. Casino games (roulette, cards, dice, slot machines).

15. Races (chariot, car, horse, dog, turtle).

16. Fights (gladiators, tournaments, prize fights, cock fights, dog fights).

17. Vocational (pool hustler, card sharp).

18. Usury (loan sharks).

19. Bribery (“fixing” or “throwing” a game).

20. Cheating, embezzlement.

21. Thieving.


          The word “bribe” was the Old English term for a piece of bread given to a beggar.  It came from briber: “to beg.”  It now means anything of value given or promised to induce prejudicial consideration or corrupt behavior.


          Observation: The criminal element is never far from a place where gambling is going on.


          Although there is no direct prohibition of gambling in Scripture, there are many indications that it is wrong.  Christian principles stand in direct opposition to the idea of beating someone out of his property or of getting something for nothing.


Love of Money:

For the love of money is the root of all evil.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.             1 Timothy 6:10


Worship of Mammon (Wealth, Materialism):

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Mammon.    Matthew 6:24


Love for One’s Neighbor:

And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

                   Matthew 22:37-39


Stewardship of Labor:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.                    Ephesians 4:28


Gain from Honest Work:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat.         2 Thessalonians 3:10


Covetousness Forbidden:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

                  Exodus 20:17


Gambling at the Cross:

They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.              Psalm 22:18


And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots.              Matthew 27:35




1. Life has many necessary risks.  Risks that are needless, artificial, and arbitrary are gambles.  This includes taking a dare: Russian roulette, diving into shallow water, dashing in front of a freight train, parachute jumping, etc.  Why are these things gambling?


2. The Three Tests of Gambling:

          Chance?      (What about skill, as in an archery contest?)

          Game?        (Is a raffle-ticket purchase a donation?)

          Value?        (What if budgeted entertainment funds are used?)


3. Test of Acceptability:

          Extravagant?  (What if a millionaire bets a dime?)

          Habitual?    (What about a once-a-year raffle ticket?)

          Example?          (Flipping for a coke may be seen as bad by a strict religionist who observes you doing it.  Not flipping can be offensive to one who views this as “narrow-minded.”)


4. Is a space shuttle launch a gamble?  (Factors to consider: skill, training, scientific calculations, hazardous duty risk, statistical likelihood of success or disaster, chance failures, etc.)





Question: Is penny-ante poker illegal in the home?  What is the minimum bet that makes a game illegal under Florida law?


Answer: One penny wagered constitutes gambling and is illegal.

            A school cake walk is illegal.

            A raffle is illegal.

            Certain institutions are authorized to have bingo.

            In practice, arrests and prosecutions are based on:

                        • police priorities (serious crimes handled first).

                        • who makes the complaint.

                        • how many complaints are made.

            The law is often used against transients in downtown Orlando.

            The attorney said, “I have prosecuted participants in a game with only a twenty dollar pot.”


Question: How is it that the state lottery is legal?


Answer: The lottery is legal because it is a state-approved institution.



            1. Gambling laws are irrational and inequitable.

            2. The law is a source of confusion to law enforcement officials.

            3. The law is subject to abuse as a tool of persecution and oppression.


                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins