Sports gambling was legalised in 1966 in Kenya, but online betting was not considered in this decades-old law. It wasn’t until 2011 that Kenya, through betkenya.com, embraced online sports gambling, even though the founding company didn’t last long enough. However, in 2013 SportPesa, a company with British roots, set up shop in Kenya, growing into a multinational betting company that now even sponsors top-flight English clubs such as Arsenal and Everton. That opened the door to a wave of other betting companies, and now sports betting websites sit atop the list of websites with the most visits in Kenya.
In May 2019, Kenyans spent Ksh 30 billion on betting! This spending was made possible by 180 million individual bets. Assuming that was a monthly average, we could safely conclude that Kenyans spent roughly Ksh 360 billion in 2019 alone on gambling. In comparison, the government of Kenya spent Ksh 103 billion only in healthcare in the same year.
But who are these whose spending even dwarfs the government’s on such an important pillar as healthcare? Polls point to youth aged 18 and over, 57% of whom are said to have gambled at least once. Additionally, 77% of Kenyan young adults between the ages of 25-34 have gambled in the past, 10% of whom gamble more than once a day.
These numbers warrant a Christian response. If gambling is sin, like all else that is sinful, it will ultimately separate souls from God (Isaiah 59:2) and rob them of delight (Psalm 16:11). So what is the big deal with gambling? Some have wondered with angst. The deal could never be more significant than the risk of missing out on eternal pleasures and instead incurring everlasting wrath.
But is Gambling Really Sinful?
What exactly can make betting a sin? Most of the time, the motivation in gambling is based on the desire for money, also known as greed. Greed in the Bible means “striving for material possessions, ” which is usually satisfied by taking advantage of another (Ephesians 4:19, 1 Corinthians 6:10). There must be many losers to win the lottery or win a bet. To bet then means you have to take advantage of someone else to win money. That is the very definition of greed, as we see in the scriptures. Greed is a severe sin that keeps someone out of heaven if fully embraced as a lifestyle (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Another thing that makes gambling potentially a sin is that the desire to do it is usually based on coveting. Coveting means to “delight in, to desire.” One of the primary desires for gamblers on the covetous desire for quick and fast jackpots of money. They think about how exciting and enjoyable it will be to have a lot of money, and they think about what all they can do with it. According to the scriptures, the jackpot desire is coveting is sin (Exodus 20:17, Luke 12:15, Romans 13:9). The promise of easy and quick money usually leads to poverty (Proverbs 21:5). Consider your ways and remember that your covetous desires don’t just lead to poverty financially, but it also leads to poverty spiritually since sin separates you from God (Isaiah 59:2).
The last thing that can make gambling a sin is the desire for “action.” Many gamblers aren’t always gambling just because of greedy and covetous desires for money. Still, they want action, excitement, or the thrill of winning or losing. Many people lose their self-control because of the compulsive urge to have more excitement in their lives through gambling. Often, gamblers start having more and more risky behaviour to get the high of action in their lives. Action often leads to the freedom of choice being stripped of its power and leads to the compulsion of gambling taking complete control (Genesis 4:7). The Bible teaches us that a lack of self-control leads to destruction in life (Proverbs 25:28). Self-control is a gift from the Lord to believers (2 Timothy 1:7, Galatians 5:22-23). Acting without self-control is acting contrary to the way God made you, which is sin.
Gambling vs. Scripture
Here are a couple more contrasts between the impulses that gambling produces and what the Scriptures say:
- Chance vs Faith – Gambling advocates for placing one’s trust in chance; Scripture, on the other hand, teaches that we ought always to look to God to supply all we need (2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:19).
- Discontentment vs Contentment – We are ever encouraged to live content lives (1 Timothy 6:6, Philippians 4:11-13), but gambling thrives on and further fuels man’s discontentment.
- Envy vs Peace – With gambling, losses must abound in order that a victor, the envy of all who lose, be found. But while “envy makes the bones rot, a tranquil heart gives life to the flesh” (Proverbs 14:30).
- Desire for Money vs Desire for God – Stronger warnings against the love for possessions, gambling’s very essence, have none than this: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). And there isn’t a stronger power against the appeal of wealth than that which God has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Christ is the true all-sufficiency, and the pursuit for money, though it fills the pocket sometimes, undoubtedly leaves lives empty.
- Laziness vs Working – In the beginning, God worked. And so did man, tending the garden from which they would feed and expanding its reach. It is by the work of our hands that the Lord prospers us (Psalm 90:17), but gambling seeks to prosper us by placing loss in the hands of another.
- Selfishness vs Blessing – The above mentioned ‘another’ whose loss is the winner’s gain is often the poor whom rather than bless as the scriptures teach, gambling hurts instead, incurring strong condemnation (Romans 13:10; Romans 14:21; Philippians 2:3-4; Proverbs 22:16).
These (and many more) are reasons to safely conclude that it would be virtually impossible for anyone to gamble without sinning; which then would forfeit life’s greatest joy and security, a relationship with God (Psalm 16:11). Therefore, take care not to bet your soul away.