Sunday, July 10, 2011

What is gambling

Everyone tells me gambling isn't directly defined in the bible. Here's my take.

Gambling is not playing a game of chance. If it is, children playing Snakes and Ladders would be engaging in an act of sin. (Perhaps it is and I am unaware of some Christian groups out there who prohibit Snakes and Ladders.)

Gambling is not placing a bet. If it is, a farmer who buy some seeds hoping to reap a harvest later in the year would be making a huge gamble that the weather would turn out favorable.

Gambling is not gaining something without honest labor. If it is, a Boeing 747 pilot lifting 400 tons across the ocean with the mere effort of his fingers would be doing something sinful. And a person inheriting a house from his parents would be a born gambler.

However, all the generally acknowledged forms of gambling are invariably games of chance and require placing bets. We will talk about honest labor later. What then is gambling?

From what I have read from different sources, I see gambling as something that complies to all three of the following conditions:

a. Gaining ownership mainly by chance.
b. Gaining ownership through the transfer of ownership from someone else (the loser) without an overall gain in productivity or value in a zero sum game.
c. A covetous act.

Based on the above, Snakes and Ladders would not be gambling as it does not have b (unless money is being wagered in which case it is like any other game in a casino) or c. A farmer planting crops would not be gambling as it does not have b too.

Based on the above, everything in the casinos is gambling. "Investing" in the stock market by studying the ups and downs and making money from this is gambling. It meets a, b and c.

About the honest labor part, notice that the lack of it is not in my three conditions. Playing blackjack is gambling despite the enormous application of intelligence and hard work by serious players. Most stock market gamblers do serious study and work, though whether that effort has a correlation to desired outcome is a separate issue.

Tougher to determine, or perhaps tougher to accept without being in denial, would be placing some money in in an interest bearing bank account. You would not be doing the gambling. Someone else is, in order that you may receive some of the interest. Is this where Islamic banking comes in?

Some people argue that gambling in casinos does not meet condition b, as gambling revenue provides a whole string of jobs in the long food chain from the tax collector to the cocktail waitress.

Now that I have defined gambling, I will leave you to learn from the theological experts the badness of gambling.