Know When to Hold ‘em

The Super Bowl last month set several records. Here’s one – “an historic 67.8 million people gambled $23.1 billion on the game’s outcome — 44% higher than the previous record of $16 billion placed by 50.4 million people, set just last year, according to a survey from the American Gaming Association.” ( People are literally able to bet on anything and everything now. Every baseball pitch. What color shirt Taylor Swift will wear to the game. It’s the very definition of insanity. 

We are a Nation of Addicts. Sex. Drugs. Money. Online status / likes.

We are seeking desperately to soothe our lonely, deeply troubled souls. 


Our governments are complicit. They capitalize on our misery. They encourage our addictions, then feign concern by setting up “Gambling Addiction Hotlines.” They sponsor public service ads telling us to “gamble responsibly.” It never occurs to them that such gibberish has never, ever made even a slight positive impact upon our society. The NHTSA reports that 37 people die every day in drunk-driving crashes, and the numbers keep climbing. But for decades now we’ve been told to “Drink Responsibly.”

Sinful desires simply cannot be curbed by government exhortations. And, who really believes the government cares, anyway? Are we so naïve as to think the lawmakers aren’t profiting from the duping of the citizenry? Why do you think the Gambling Industry employs an army of lobbyists? 

The State of Kentucky legalized sports betting last year. Governor Andy Beshear (D) touted it as a major victory, as he pulled it off with a majority Republican State Legislature. Gambling support is bi-partisan. Within months, calls to the State Gambling Hotline tripled. I wonder which lawmakers are getting rich off Kentuckians who are barely making ends meet yet cannot seem to control the urge to get rich quick? more 

When I was a young lad, I remember the movies and soundtrack made famous by Kenny Rogers. “The Gambler” it was called. The refrain echoes in my mind:

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done.

That song actually tells us so much about gambling. The song mentions whiskey drinking and cigarette smoking. One stanza says, “The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.” While the movie was set in the Old West, when gamblers lived and often died by their gunslinging skills, or lack thereof, not much has really changed. Gambling still travels with heavy baggage, including increased crime and depression and suicide and divorce and stealing and various sundry vices. No wonder the American Psychiatric Association classifies gambling as an “addiction” and details other disorders, such as bi-polar depression, as co-symptoms of the addiction. (That’s chicken or egg stuff, but the reality is neither an addiction nor depression is commendable.) 

Studies have shown the dopamine hit for gambling is akin to hard drugs such as heroin. And now, with online sports betting, every teen, college student and grandpa carries a portable casino called a cellphone. Americans gambled or bet a quarter of a trillion dollars last year. That’s more than the GDP of the Nation of Greece ( more). 

An ever-growing percentage of teens are now gambling online. The industry is AI driven and essentially unregulated. It is set up to ensure the gambler loses. So, we can just add this to a growing list of vices threatening to consume us – mind, body, and soul – every moment of every day. The Roman Catholic Bingo halls have morphed into Medusa! 

No doubt, many evangelical Christians gamble. And see it as harmless. And might not view themselves as addicted if they only place a bet once or twice a week, or once a month. And, many evangelicals would not consider gambling a sin. Isn’t it kind of like old-fashioned fundamentalist legalism to call gambling a sin? I mean, there’s actually not a verse saying, “Thou shalt not gamble.” 

While I do not intend here to try to make a robust argument that every purchase of a Lottery Ticket is a sin, I do think we should submit ourselves to sound, biblical principles of stewardship. Then, in light of them, ask ourselves some hard questions pertaining to gambling. A few examples may suffice:

  • God owns everything (1 Chron 29:14; Psalm 24:1; 50:10-12).
  • Every blessing we have comes from God (James 1:17; John 3:27). 
  • God will hold us accountable for our stewardship of His resources (Matt 25:14-30; Luke 12:16-21; 1 Cor 4:2). 
  • God gives us material wealth primarily so we can bless others in need and advance the cause of His Gospel (2 Cor 9; Eph 4:28; 3 Jn 5-8). 
  • Greed for unjust gain, and desires to get rich quick, and/or laziness, are sinful (Prov 1:10-19; 21:25-26; 22:16, 29; 23:4; 27:23-24; 28:19-22). 
  • Discontentment is an open door for all sorts of sin to control your heart and life, as is the love of money (Prov 16:8, 16; 27:20; 1 Tim 6:6-10). 

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts” (Rom 13:14). “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24). ‘Nuff said.

When we honestly analyze the gambling industry, as well as our own reasons for placing bets, in light of these Scriptures, it should become obvious why gambling is bad business for a Christian. Gambling is corrupt to the core and it corrupts us to our cores. 

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). 

May God help us obey His Word. And when we need to confess a sin and seek forgiveness and get help for any enslaving impulse of our flesh, God give us courage to ask a Christian friend or pastor or counselor to walk alongside us. Jesus is worthy. Let’s not waste His good gifts, dear friends.

When it comes to gambling, we should always hold ‘em. Always walk away. Always run. Turns out, there’s too much at stake. “By what a man is overcome, by that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19).

by Keith McWhorter