Is Gambling Kosher?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
As we are trying to enter the property market, we sometimes joke that we would need to win the lottery to afford the house of our dreams. I am often tempted to buy a lottery ticket but feel guilty that perhaps it is not the right thing to do. Are Jews allowed to buy lottery tickets or is gambling something that is discouraged?
There is a fascinating discussion about gambling in Jewish law. It is a multi-faceted topic, but here is a very brief overview.
Some authorities, particularly Sephardi scholars, forbid any form of gambling, even buying a lottery ticket. They say that gambling is a form of stealing. The logic goes like this: gamblers are all under the illusion that they are going to win. Despite the clear evidence that the only real winners are the casino owners, people keep on putting money down in the false belief that this is their lucky day. But no one puts their money down to willingly lose it. So the winner is essentially taking other people's money against their will - which is tantamount to stealing.
A more lenient view differentiates between an occasional gambler and a serious gamester. According to this opinion, the odd bet here and there is not forbidden, as long as it doesn't become a regular habit. But beware. It all starts with one yank of the poker machine. Gambling is one of the most damaging addictions, and it is legal. It destroys lives, breaks up families, and creates more lonely people.
Even if someone is not addicted, regular gambling is still frowned upon. The Talmud says that a professional gambler is not trusted to serve as a witness in court. This is because such a person contributes nothing to society, and so their values are questionable. If someone works as a street sweeper or a lawn mower technician or a brain surgeon, they are providing a service and making the world better. But someone who spends much of their time gambling is not productive in any way. It is not just a waste of time and money, it is a waste of a life.
So buying a lottery ticket every now and then would not be considered professional gambling. Though it probably won't pay your mortgage, it is permitted according to many opinions. But it certainly should not replace a good honest day's work.
PS. Even those authorities who forbid any form of gambling would encourage buying a raffle ticket in a charity auction. This is because in that case there are no losers - everyone who gives to charity wins.