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One of my readers asked me to write an article on The Courage to Stop Gambling.  He worried that we’ve become obsessed with winning raffles and lotteries; playing games of chance; casinos and online gambling has become a big part of our consumer-driven, materialistic society. Entertainment is so embedded in our psyche that life without it seems dull or boring.

Another reader wrote:

I know it is forbidden and that The Universal House of Justice has decided that for the present time it is the responsibility of each individual to decide for themselves what constitutes gambling.

I was wondering four things:

1) What do the Baha’i writings say should be the legal consequence?

2) According to the Baha’i writings why is it forbidden?

3) Does the Baha’i Faith say anything positive about gambling?*

4) To the best of our knowledge, did Bahá’u’lláh permit any forms of gambling?

So I thought it was time to turn to the Baha’i Writings to see if I could find some answers.

Some shocking statistics to consider:

  • about 80 percent of North American adults gamble on a yearly basis
  • approximately 6 million American adults are addicted to gambling
  • an estimated 50 percent of those affected by gambling problems commit crimes in order to support their addiction (primarily by writing bad cheques or embezzling money from their employers)
  • youth between the ages of 20-30 have the highest rates of problem gambling.
  • gambling addictions are about a prevalent as those who abuse cocaine or amphetamines.
  • families of problem gamblers are more likely to experience child abuse or other forms of domestic violence.
  • early onset of problem gambling increases the lifetime risk of suicide
  • the most common gaming activities among Canadian adults are lotteries and instant-win tickets

The DSM-5 has re-classified the condition as an addictive disorder, despite the fact that  pathological gambling has long been considered by the American Psychiatric Association to be an impulse control disorder rather than an addiction.

I think it’s no surprise that gambling is prohibited.  It’s interesting to me that it’s combined with the use of opium, in light of the comments above.

Gambling and the use of opium have been forbidden unto you.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 75)

What is prohibited?

In response to questions about whether lotteries, betting on such things as horse races and football games, bingo, and the like, are included under the prohibition of gambling.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

Are all games prohibited?

Asked whether the Bahá’í prohibition of gambling applies to game of every description, ‘Abdu’l-Baha replied: —No, some games are innocent, and if pursued for pastime there is no harm. But there is danger that pastime may degenerate into waste of time. Waste of time is not acceptable in the Cause of God. But recreation which may improve the bodily powers, as exercise, is desirable.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 103)

Is anything NOT prohibited?

As far as individuals are concerned, we have carefully studied the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi on this point and it is apparent that such subsidiary matters are not recorded in the Holy Texts. The Universal House of Justice is not prepared to decide at this time whether the purchase of lottery tickets should be permitted or prohibited.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

When and how is it enforced?

The Universal House of Justice has indicated that this is a matter that will be considered in detail in the future. In the meantime, the Assemblies and individuals are counselled not to make an issue of these matters and to leave it to the conscience of the individual believers.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

Raising Money for the Funds

The House of Justice has ruled that it is not appropriate for funds for the Faith to be raised through lotteries, raffles, and games of chance.  (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 238-239)

As to participation in Bingo games by a Local Spiritual Assembly with the intention of contributing to the Fund, we do not feel it is appropriate for funds for the Faith to be raised through games of chance or raffles.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

In reviewing your Minutes for 15 March 1967, we note Item 25-8 in which the Treasurer suggests a lottery as means of disposing of a Persian carpet which has been given to you by one of the believers. We do not feel this is an appropriate way in which to raise funds.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

Reasons for the Injunction

Betting on horse racing is a pernicious disease. It hath been seen in Europe what distress this hath caused. Thousands have become afflicted and distraught. The friends of God must engage in work which is lawful and attracted blessings, so that God’s aid and bounty may always surround them.’ (Translated from the Persian) (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 357)

The trials of man are of two kinds. (a) The consequences of his own actions. If a man eats too much, he ruins his digestion; if he takes poison he becomes ill or dies. If a person gambles he will lose his money; if he drinks too much he will lose his equilibrium. All these sufferings are caused by the man himself, it is quite clear therefore that certain sorrows are the result of our own deeds. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 49)

The world’s wealth is, by contrast, the stuff of illusion. Those who lust after it are the followers of evil and, erelong, they shall be plunged into confusion and despair.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 343)

The problem seems to be our materialistic world, where we’re taught to want more and more “things” and even to see consumption as normal.

Baha’u’llah has a different thought about wealth.  In the Hidden Words He states:

Thou dost wish for gold and I desire thy freedom from it. Thou thinkest thyself rich in its possession, and I recognize thy wealth in thy sanctity therefrom. By My life! This is My knowledge, and that is thy fancy; how can My way accord with thine?  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 56)

The problem with this is that it causes us to turn away from God:

All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

When we gamble, we put all our affairs in someone else’s hands.  Since our entire purpose in life is to “know and worship God”, every time we fail to turn to God for our needs, we fail to achieve our purpose.

In God’s eyes, our wealth lies in our love for Him:

The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 156)

Everything we want from life – happiness, status, pleasure and peace can never be found in material wealth:

The happiness and greatness, the rank and station, the pleasure and peace, of an individual have never consisted in his personal wealth, but rather in his excellent character, his high resolve, the breadth of his learning, and his ability to solve difficult problems.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 23)

Many people see lotteries as a way to improve the lives of their families and friends, but in this new world order we’re creating, the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor.

Good God! is it possible that, seeing one of his fellow-creatures starving, destitute of everything, a man can rest and live comfortably in his luxurious mansion? He who meets another in the greatest misery, can he enjoy his fortune? That is why, in the religion of God, it is prescribed and established that wealthy men each year give over a certain part of their fortune for the maintenance of the poor and unfortunate. That is the foundation of the religion of God, and the most essential of the commandments.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 283-284)

And contributions made to the Right of God are used for charitable purposes:

Furthermore the Huquq will be used for charitable purposes.  (Compilations, Huququ’llah 62)

Many people look at quick-fix winning as some magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it comes with a high price.  If you’re unhappy, bad with money and surrounded by people you don’t trust, money will make those problems worse.  About 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years, either to their own greed or the greed of those around them, all with their hands out looking to share the wealth.  Many declare bankruptcy, become divorced and even commit suicide.

Even this earth’s happiness does not depend upon wealth. You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached. They come into this world naked, and they must go from it naked. All they possess they must leave behind and pass away solitary, alone. Often at the time of death their souls are filled with remorse; and worst of all, their hope in the mercy of God is less than ours.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

God wants us to achieve our wealth through making efforts in our crafts and professions:

Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437)

The legitimacy of wealth depends, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has indicated, on how it is acquired and on how it is expended. In this connection, He has stated that “wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, crafts and industry”.  (Universal House of Justice message to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 1 April 2010)

The members of the younger generation would do well to ponder the above statement
of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in which He conditions the acquisition of wealth on diligent work and the grace of God. Let them weigh carefully in their hearts and minds the difference between gaining wealth through earnest effort in fields such as agriculture, commerce, the arts, and industry, on the one hand, and, on the other, obtaining it without exertion or through dishonourable means. Let them consider the consequences of each for the spiritual development of the individual, as well as the progress of society, and ask themselves what possibilities exist for generating income and acquiring wealth that will draw down confirmations from on high. It will surely become evident, as they do so, that what will attract God’s blessings and ensure true happiness both in this world and in the next is the development of spiritual qualities, such as honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, justice, and consideration for others, and the recognition that material means are to be expended for the betterment of the world.
(Universal House of Justice, [Authorized Translation from Persian], 2 April 2010, to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith)

In 2006, Americans lost nearly $91 billion on all forms of gambling combined.  According to some economists, the total cost per year to end extreme poverty worldwide in 20 years, would be about $175 billion.  So if everyone just stopped gambling and applied that money to eliminating poverty, we’d be half way there!

So what does all of this have to do with overcoming an attachment to gambling?

To stop, we must provide education and training, (which I hope to have done above).

If a soul be ailing and infirm, we must produce remedies; if ignorant, we must provide education; if defective, we must train and perfect that which is lacking; if immature and undeveloped, we must supply the means of attainment to maturity.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 315)

For remedies, many countries have now got helplines available to help people stop.  Some of them are listed here

Online programs are available through Gambling Therapy

12 Step programs are often successful and “approved”:

A variety of self-help groups, in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, may be available in different areas and, as long as they are reasonably in keeping with the principles of the Faith, believers should feel free to use them as needed. One such organization is the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addiction and Abuse (BNASAA), sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada. The BNASAA website is www.bnasaa.org (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 6)

In regard to your question about the fifth step in the “A.A. 12-Step Programme”, we have been asked to share with you the following extract from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on 26 August 1986 to an individual believer: …there is no objection to Bahá’í being members of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is an association that does a great deal of good in assisting alcoholics to overcome their lamentable condition. The sharing of experience which the members undertake does not conflict with the Bahá’í prohibition on the confession of sins; it is more in the nature of the therapeutic relationship between a patient and a psychiatrist.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Feb 7, Issues concerning community functioning)

The Bahá’í community should feel free to call upon such agencies as Alcoholics Anonymous for assistance and upon public agencies who work with the problem, but must realize that the greatest healing of this social and individual disease is God’s Cause which in its fullness will eliminate the causes of alcoholism.  (Universal House of Justice, dated August 8, 1979, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

For more on this topic:

Gambling: To Wager or to Work

Baha’i Law on Gambling

Dealing with Addictions

What has been your experience with gambling and how has this helped you understand the issues?  Post your comments below.