Last Updated on 19th May 2023
Jazib Mehmood, Jamia Ahmadiyya International Ghana
A while back, an article in The Guardian spoke about how ubiquitous gambling ads were ruining people, and how the author, a footballer himself, was prepared to be paid less if it meant ads about casinos and gambling would no longer be associated with football. (“As a footballer, I am surrounded by gambling ads. This needs to stop”, www.theguardian.com)
The reason was simple: gambling addiction. It is a well-documented addictive disorder that is known to be similar to substance addictions, especially alcohol. The footballer also has good reasons to take such a stance against ads. According to one study, betting ads prompt about one-third of gamblers to place a bet they would not have otherwise made. (“The association between gambling marketing and unplanned gambling spend: Synthesised findings from two online cross-sectional surveys (2022)”, Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 135)
But that is not likely to happen. According to the Gambling Commission in the UK, online football betting raised £1.1 billion in 2022, the largest by far of all sports betting sectors. And that is in the UK alone. The worldwide gambling market is not hurting either. On the contrary, it is projected to grow to $876 billion by 2026. (Global Gambling Industry, October 2022)
The dangers of gambling
Casino companies prey on the weakness of casino-goers. Casinos are designed to block all outside light to distort one’s sense of time. No clocks are hung either. Alcohol is readily available. There are constant sounds of people “winning”, creating the illusion that you too can win easily.
Describing the danger of slot machines, one researcher states, “No other form of gambling manipulates the human mind as ‘beautifully’ as these machines.” (The New York Times Magazine, 9 May 2004, www.nytimes.com)
Consequently, in some cases, pathological gamblers who go bankrupt even sue casino companies, stating that by extending credit and offering free suites and alcohol, these companies had preyed on those they knew had no control over their habits. (“How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts”, The Atlantic Magazine, December 2016, www.theatlantic.com)
However, online gambling is even more dangerous than traditional gambling. One of the clearest pieces of evidence for this assertion is that online gamblers have higher rates of gambling addiction compared to traditional gamblers. (“Problem gambling on the Internet: Implications for Internet gambling policy in North America”, New Media & Society (2007),Vol.9, pp. 520–542)
Consequently, online gambling often leads to the complete destruction of one’s lifestyle. One study even found a direct link between online sports betting and suicide. (“Gambling and suicidality: a review of recent studies”, Psicologia della Salute (2020), Vol. 3, pp. 35–63)
Similarly, a 2019 study by GambleAware also found that some gamblers were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and eight times more likely to try to take their own life.
One recent sobering example is Australia, which desperately needed reform. As of December last year, it had the highest gambling losses per person in the world. In March this year, Al Jazeera declared them the “world’s worst gamblers”. Suicide is a very real fear, with one article in The Guardian stating that “lives are at stake”.
Many are oblivious to or disconnected from the reality of their losses – or in some cases, too young to understand what is happening. Perhaps Edward Snowden was right when he wrote:
“There is something about peering at life through a window that can ultimately abstract us from our actions and limit any meaningful confrontation with the consequences.” (Permanent Record – A Memoir of a Reluctant Whistleblower, Pan Macmillan, 2019)
George Washington’s description of gambling
Back in 1783, George Washington, one of the founding fathers of the US, wrote a letter to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, in which he wrote the following about gambling:
“This is a vice, which is productive of every possible evil; equally injurious to the morals and health of its votaries. It is the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity, and the father of mischief. It has been the ruin of many worthy families, the loss of many a man’s honor, and the cause of suicide. […] In a word, few gain by this abominable practice, while thousands are injured.”(The Writings of George Washington by Jared Sparks, Vol. 8, p. 374)
Gambling and world religions
Given the heavy impact of gambling on our society, it’s highly relevant to discuss what the world’s mainstream religions have to say about gambling. It is somewhat surprising that, although some lines are drawn, they are usually blurry. For example, Catholics suggest that gambling may be permissible if it is fair, and there is no addiction. (See New Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6, p. 85 [2nd Edition])
However, one cannot control addiction. As for so-called ‘fair’ gambling, Adam Smith, often called the Father of Modern Economics (and a Presbyterian), writes:
“That the chance of gain is naturally overvalued, we may learn from the universal success of lotteries. The world neither ever saw, nor ever will see a perfectly fair lottery, or one in which the whole gain compensated the whole loss […].” (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, [MetaLibri Digital Libraries, 2007], p. 88)
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Its views on gambling are somewhat ambiguous; there is no inflexible rule that forbids or allows gambling. On the one hand, gambling has long been practised in India and by figures in mythology; on the other hand, religious authorities harshly condemn gambling, and most forms of gambling are illegal in India today. (Gambling and religion: Histories of concord and conflict, Journal of Gambling Issues, Issue 20, pp. 145–166)
Modern Buddhism is a polytheistic religion with many deities. Today, gambling is widespread in many Buddhist countries, such as Thailand. Many believers do not feel that there is a conflict between their religion and gambling; for instance, gambling at Thai funerals is very common – even though it is outlawed in most other settings. (The Funeral Casino: Meditation, Massacre, and Exchange with the Dead in Thailand, pp. 250–251)
Therefore, Buddhism allows gambling to some extent, although it frowns upon addictive gambling. According to some teachings, Buddha mentioned six dangers that go with gambling addiction:
“There are these six dangers attached to gambling: the winner makes enemies, the loser bewails his loss, one wastes one’s present wealth, one’s word is not trusted in the assembly, one is despised by one’s friends and companions, one is not in demand for marriage, because a gambler cannot afford to maintain a wife.” (The Long Discourses of the Buddha: a Translation of the Digha Nikaya [Wisdom Publications, 1995], p. 463)
In Talmudic law, a gambler who had no other trade but lived by gambling was disqualified as a judge and as a witness. The concept of gambling was expressly extended to include betting on animal races and the flights of pigeons and other birds. (New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud [2nd Edition, 1918], Vol. 4, p. 40)
Jewish law therefore forbids professional and compulsive gambling; condemns the occasional act of gambling when indulged in for personal gain; while occasional gambling, where all or part of the winnings go to charity, has never roused condemnation and has even held the approval of some Jewish communities in the past. (Encyclopaedia Judaica Vol. 7, p. 368 [2nd Edition])
The Catholic Church is of the opinion that there is no moral impediment to gambling. It is only considered a sin “when the indulgence in it is inconsistent with duty.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6, p. 85 [2nd Edition])
Games of chance are not regarded as sinful in themselves, but only when played to excess and when they “deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.” (The Roman Catholic Catechism, paragraph 2413)
Despite this official position of the Catholic Church, many Catholic bishops are still opposed to gambling. This is possibly so because the Bible also states that greed and love of money are the “root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10) The greedy are warned that they only “bring ruin to their households.” (Proverbs 15:27) The Gospel of Luke clearly states that “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” (Luke 12:15)
Other Christian sects like Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are also generally opposed to gambling.
Islam’s teachings regarding gambling
Islam categorically forbids all kinds of gambling in a way that no other religion does. Specifically, the Holy Quran, the primary source of guidance for Muslims worldwide, states concerning gambling:
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا
“They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also [some] advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.’” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.220)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالأَنصَابُ وَالأَزْلاَمُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُوقِعَ بَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةَ وَالْبَغْضَاء فِي الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ وَيَصُدَّكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللّهِ وَعَنِ الصَّلاَةِ
“O ye who believe! wine and the game of hazard and idols and divining arrows are only an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So shun [each one of] them that you may prosper. Satan desires only to create enmity and hatred among you by means of wine and the game of hazard, and to keep you back from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, Ch.5:V.91–92)
Apart from such clear injunctions, Muslims are also commanded to view this world and all its attractions as mere distractions. Materialism is also to be shunned, and the real treasure to be sought is not material wealth, but spiritual blessings and favours.
Interestingly, in both of the aforementioned verses, wine and gambling are mentioned together. This is not without reason. Researchers have now reached this very conclusion, stating that gambling, which is particularly and relatively more problematic, “is more common among people with alcohol use disorders.” (Pathological Gambling and Alcohol Use Disorder, Alcohol Health and Research World, Vol. 26 Issue 2, pp. 143–150)
Many researchers have also expressed concerns that pathological gambling is much harder to treat when alcohol is involved. (Difficulties in treatment of people with comorbid gambling and substance use disorders, Journal of Substance Use, Vol. 25, Issue 4, pp. 350–356)
Islam’s guidance in the modern age
Despite the clear teachings of the Holy Quran, some major Muslim countries have abandoned their strict laws in favour of gambling. Although Muslim countries do not allow their citizens to gamble in casinos, many Muslim countries house multiple casinos, with sizeable gaming revenues annually.
Muslim countries like Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon, etc., have casinos and foreigners – and wealthy citizens with dual citizenships – regularly gamble by simply showing their other passports. (“Gambling in the Muslim World”, Global Gaming Business Magazine, July 2019,Vol. 19, Issue 7, https://ggbmagazine.com/article/gambling-in-the-muslim-world/)
In contrast to Muslims around the world today, Ahmadi Muslims are greatly blessed to have the guidance of the Promised Messiahas and his Successors, which helps them navigate through the complexities of the modern world and live their lives in accordance with Islamic teachings.
For example, in the time of the Promised Messiahas, Hazrat Munshi Barkat Ali Khanra, a companion of the Promised Messiahas, used to buy lottery tickets before accepting Ahmadiyyat, which later won him a sum of seven and a half thousand rupees.
When he asked the Promised Messiahas about what to do with the money, Huzooras said, “This money is not permissible for you [to spend]. This is gambling. Do not spend a penny of it on yourself.”
Instead, Huzooras advised Munshi Sahib to give the money away to the needy people around him. Consequently, he gave away all the money to the underprivileged. (Ashab-e-Ahmad Vol. 3, pp. 245–246 [2nd Edition])
Naturally, this does not serve as an endorsement for unlawful means of acquiring wealth. Rather, it is important to understand that this sum was already in the possession of Munshi Sahib, procured through the lottery prior to his receipt of the instructions from the Promised Messiahas. Otherwise, the Promised Messiahas clearly prohibited acquiring wealth by unlawful means in order to give it as charity. (Malfuzat , Vol. 5, p. 42)
Guidance in the present age
Today, there are many forms of gambling; some are subtle, and others are not so subtle.
For example, many types of games also have some form of gambling attached to them, whether overtly or covertly. In this regard, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, the fifth successor of the Promised Messiahas has offered crystal clear guidance to issues that might otherwise appear muddled to the unqualified eye. Huzooraa states:
“[…] Risking money in games in a manner that would incur a loss of one’s money if one loses that game or one would gain some money in case of winning the game, is called gambling which has been categorically declared haram [forbidden] by Islam.
“Whether the game is played in person, or by way of a lottery, or by risking money online through various apps, it is called gambling in all cases which is prohibited.” (Al Hakam 14 January 2022, Issue 200, p. 12)
Similarly, some kinds of trades in the stock market today are considered gambling in the eyes of the teachings of Islam. Speaking of how short-selling is also a form of gambling, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa states:
“[…] Among the various trades in the stock market, the short-selling business is in a sense a form of gambling. Therefore, sometimes the short sellers have to suffer huge losses instead of profits, as happened in the case of GameStop’s shares some time ago.
“Thus, in light of the teachings of Islam, it is the duty of a believing trader to ensure that he is neither deceived nor to deceive others, but should achieve financial gains by doing honest and transparent business while ensuring that his Lord is pleased with him.” (Al Hakam 15 July 2022, Issue 226, p. 8)
Then, ever since the FTX scandal broke, many people might perhaps be wondering about Islam’s views on cryptocurrency. In this case, too, we have the guidance of Huzooraa, wherein he clearly states that, in his opinion, the present volatile nature of the entire industry means that pouring money into this new type of currency is gambling. (Friday Sermon 6 January 2023; Al Hakam 3 February 2023, Issue 255, p. 17)
Knowing what we know about gambling, and how companies prey on people for profit – often using scientific principles to keep us hooked – not gambling should be a no-brainer.
And yet, it is clear that without the teachings of Islam and, consequently, the guidance of the Promised Messiahas and Mahdi of the age, gambling remains a trap. Only by following the teachings of Islam to the letter can help everyone stay safe from the harms of such often seemingly harmless avenues of quick wealth.