is poker sinful?

In the comments to last month’s PFB post on a strange exchange at the World Series of Poker, one of the commenters wanted to know my thoughts on whether it’s okay for Christians to play poker. I decided to share them over at, and I’ll share them here as well. Just keep in mind 5 things:

  1. I’m not even sure poker is a sport. But they show it on the four-letter network, so why not?
  2. Yes, I THINK I’m right. If I thought I was wrong, I would change my opinion.
  3. No, I don’t KNOW I’m right.
  4. I try to use the Bible for my definitions of right, wrong, and sin. If you think the Bible is crap, you’ll think my opinion is crap.
  5. This is only my opinion, feel free to disagree.

Having said all that, here’s my stance on Poker, fleshed out in Q&A style with fictional veteran reporter Quentin Query:

QQ: Did you see U23D yet?

PFB: Yes I did, and it was unbelievable. But please, stick to the topic.

QQ: Sorry, so is it a sin for a Christian to play poker?

PFB: In every instance? No. But it might be in some cases. Just like it might be a sin for a Christian to have a beer, a cigarette, or a third cheeseburger in some instances. Unless the Bible speaks specifically against something (which in this case it doesn’t), I believe a Christian must discern based on Biblical principles and the Holy Spirit within them. Contrary to what some Christians want you to believe, there really aren’t hundreds of laws to follow in Christianity, Jesus’ life and death fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17) so we don’t have to. Instead, He gives us His Spirit and freedom, not to do whatever we want (Romans 6:1-2), but to enjoy freedom (gal 5:1) and to serve Him, not as slaves, but as friends (John 15:15).

QQ: Poker, beer, and cigarettes? Doesn’t sound like a typical small group gathering to me.

PFB: In my opinion, poker, alcohol, and cigarettes are not inherently evil in and of themselves. I find nowhere in the Bible where those specific things are called out as being evil and off-limits for followers of Jesus.

QQ: So you’re saying it’s ok for Christians to be addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, and gambling?

PFB: Did I say that? No. The Bible speaks clearly against drunkenness (Gal 5:21). It also warns Christians against being greedy (1 Tim 6:10) . It talks about not being “enslaved by anything” despite “things being lawful” (1 Cor 6:12). It also talks about physical discipline with regards to your body being important (1 Tim 4:8).

QQ: So make up your mind then, are these things okay or not?

PFB: I believe they are okay in moderation, as long as your spouse is okay with it (providing you are married, of course) and your own conscience is okay with it. (I didn’t mention the Bible here, but as I said before, if something is addressed specifically in the Bible, then that trumps everything else.) I’m not saying this is a definitive list of how to decide if something is okay for you (in case i left anything out) but it if the Bible, the people you are accountable to , and your conscience are okay with it, then I think you’re in a good place.

QQ: So let’s get back to Poker. If Poker is okay, but only in moderation, how can it be okay to make a living doing it?

PFB: Let’s take Daniel Negreanu, who is a professional poker player and a Christian. Poker is Daniel’s job. If I believed that poker was inherently wrong, then I would believe that as a Christian he needs a new job.

For example, I believe pornography is inherently evil, so i think any Christian working in the porn industry needs to find a new job. (I’m not talking about the XXX church guys, who make a living ministering to the porn industry, I’m talking about actors/directors/producers/etc.)

But since I don’t believe Poker is evil (because I don’t believe the Bible speaks against it, as I said earlier), I think one must use their brain and their conscience to decide if it’s right for them.

Compare playing poker for a living to a “normal job” like being an engineer. Neither are inherently evil, but both can be abused and can become a source for our sinfulness. If the engineer alienates his family because he puts 80 hours a week into the job to make more money, to me that is sinful. If the engineer obsesses about the job during every waking moment, and it becomes more important to him than loving people and loving God, to me that is sinful. I think those same things can be said for Poker.

Now, is it easier for greed to sneak in if you’re job is Poker? I think so. Income isn’t fixed for poker players. They win money by playing well and catching breaks. So I think poker, as a career path, might not be a wise choice for a lot of people. But I don’t think it is absolutely a sinful career path.

Daniel Negreanu is a smart guy with an innate ability to calculate odds, analyze numbers, and read other people. He couples these talents with preparation and hard work, and has been able to be successful in it. There are many who are not successful.

QQ: Yeah and when he wins, other people are losing money. Sometimes a lot of money. Isn’t that wrong?

PFB: Why would it be wrong for him to better at his job than his competitors? When you get a promotion over another guy in the office, is that wrong? When your company’s bid gets accepted over another company’s, is that wrong? When you sell something on eBay for more than you bought it for, is that wrong? Almost every transaction in every workplace involves people spending time, energy, and money for something in return. Some ventures are riskier than others.

Some will argue that poker is based mostly on luck, but it’s not. Luck plays a role, of course, but it is a game of odds. Skill absolutely comes into play. And I can make an argument that luck plays just as much of a role in every other job out there.

QQ: Well, forget about the professional for a minute. What about the guy who spends $100 a month playing in his weekly poker game?

PFB: Again, if you believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with poker, than he’s in the same boat as the golf nut who spends $100 a month on greens fees, the woman who spends $100 a month on her scrap-booking hobby, and the tech geek who spends $100 a month on the latest gadget.

Each one of these folks can be sinning if their hobbies go against the authority/accountability in their lives or their consciences. If they begin to love golf, gadgets, or poker more than they love God and other people (which, granted, isn’t easy to quantify) than they can be in sin as well.

QQ: You keep saying Poker isn’t evil. Doesn’t the Bible say that gambling is a sin?

PFB: Does it? I don’t think so. The Bible never mentions the word “gambling”. There are plenty of websites that try to tell you why gambling is a sin. But their arguments, to me, hold little water. Read here, here, and here to see if you agree (the last link makes the best arguments of the three, but I still don’t buy their arguments). They all talk about loving money, stealing money, greed, deception, addictions, and other things which I agree are wrong, but these things are not hardwired to gambling.

I play poker a few times a year for the same reason I go to the movies a few times a year. It’s fun. I don’t do it because I love money, or because I want to steal from others, or because I am addicted, or because I want to be deceitful. I do it because I know that for the $20 buy-in I am going to get a few hours of fun time hanging out with friends, playing cards. To me, it’s more of a “gamble” to spend $15 on a popcorn, soda, and ticket to a movie that might not be any good.

QQ: Yeah, but there are a lot people who do it for those wrong reasons: greed, addiction, lust for more.

PFB: Yeah, and there are a lot of people who weigh over 350 pounds because they eat for the same reason that some people play poker: greed, lust for more, addiction. Does that make eating inherently evil too? Should we all stop eating? What about the folks who are obsessive about running because they are prideful about the way they look or because they want others to think they are the best at it and worship their accomplishments? Just because they’ve made running into something spiritually unhealthy, does that mean running is evil? No. I hope you see the error in that logic.

QQ: I guess I see your point, but if so many Christians have a problem with it, shouldn’t that be a flag that it’s wrong?

PFB: Yeah, I think that’s fair. But I’m not going to accept that something is right or wrong just based on popular opinion. Everything is worth looking at closely. We should all be discerning things taught from our pulpits and spoken in the pews. Poker definitely has a stigma to it in Christian circles, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

QQ: Well, that’s all the tape we have for this interview. Do you feel like you’ve made a thoroughly convincing, impenetrable argument that it’s okay for some folks to play poker?

PFB: Not really. But I think what I’m saying makes sense, and I think it jives with the Bible. I’d be interested in other folks’ thoughts about this subject. I’m not trying to justify poker because i love to play. Like I said, I only play a few times a year and I’d give it up in a second if I felt it was wrong or if my wife asked me to. I just hate to see Christians creating their own laws and then thinking they’ve earned righteousness or favor with God because they keep them. Like one of my favorite musicians Derek Webb says:

“What’s the use of trading, a law you could never keep – For one you can, but will not get you anything.

Opinions, thoughts, criticisms, and insults are welcomed in the comments section…