Great question! First, let’s define the boundaries in which we are studying this issue. There are two categories of sins: sins specifically mentioned in the Bible, and sins that are ruled out on general principles. When the Bible doesn’t give a specific injunction or prohibition on a given topic, the Bible student who truly desires to know and follow God’s will will seek to understand the operative elements of the given subject and what the fundamental principles of God’s word say about those. In other words, we must apply he principles of God’s word, not just prohibitions. Since gambling is not mentioned in scripture (to my knowledge), we have to decide this based on the principles of God’s word.
We first need to understand the basic elements, operations, and effects of gambling in order to apply the principles. Let’s first tackle gambling as a whole, then gambling in moderation. As you know, the underlying principle of how gambling works, and the reasons it’s so popular, is that it offers a monetary reward without actually having to work for it. This is extremely enticing and addictive. I don’t need to tell you that many people have squandered their livelihoods and ruined their ability to provide for their families in this means. Spending a little money to possibly receive a much greater amount results in the person throwing away far more money than they receive. Gambling creates a strong love for money in the gamblers heart. It pushes one to make money and it’s benefits the all-consuming point to one’s life. We also see that gambling is closely associated with many other addictive and destructive habits like alcohol, illicit sex, and drugs.
The addictive nature of gambling cannot be understated. Addictive substances that can lead to negative results are condemned in scripture. Notice alcohol, for instance. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). We also see the effects of others in the Bible who drank to their destruction. (Genesis 9:20-26; 19:30-38, 2 Samuel 11:13, etc…) Alcohol is always treated as a bad thing in scripture, and no exemption is given for even a moderate consumption. So we see that the Bible condemns addictive substances that have harmful effects.
We also have to note how much money the gambler will waste. Let’s be real, the house always wins in the end. They are exceptionally good money-makers because they know that they will get more money than they give. It’s just simple business. Conversely, many people who gamble a lot will end up losing vast amounts of money while getting very little in return. For one who has been tasked with providing for their family, for helping the poor, and for providing for the work of the gospel ministry, how can this be seen as a beneficial endeavor?
Now, it seems that you have a recognition that gambling with lots of money is not necessarily a good thing, which is why you asked specifically about small amounts of money with a small group of friends. So let’s address this. There are three basic objections I see to this.
Firstly, there is the issue of the example that it gives to others. You may feel that you can always control your gambling and that you will never experience its negative results. But what about your kids? What about your friends? Chances are, they won’t all be able to control themselves in the same way. Now, your example has given them the feeling that gambling is okay. In other words, you’ve become a stumbling block for someone else. And that’s a very high price to pay for a little fun. Ruining another’s life and endangering their eternal salvation is never an acceptable risk.
Secondly, there’s the issue of the cost to benefit ratio. What actual good are you deriving from gambling now and then? It gives relaxation, time with friends, etc…, but these are all elements that can easily be obtained with far less objectionable games and recreational activities. For the cost, however, do you really want to pay the price of training your loved ones to have a gambling addiction? Do you really want to dance with creating an inordinate love of money in your heart? Do you really want to chance an addiction to gambling that will cause you to lose so much of your life? To me, the benefits just aren’t worth the risk.
Lastly, and maybe most significantly, it is clear that Satan uses gambling to destroy countless lives. Based on the highly unbiblical and destructive nature of it, I’m confident in saying that it is the invention of Satan himself. So why would I partake in even the smallest degree of something demonic? If we are to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), should we not also avoid even small amounts of things that are actually evil? Because of this, I find it necessary not only to abstain myself, but also to protest its use. The Christian who desires to see others saved should exert his influence against all behaviors that would lead people onto Satan’s ground.