The accusations against an official of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in a gambling scandal afford us the opportunity for a brief overview gambling from a Jewish perspective.
Judaism has always looked askance at gambling. It is viewed as an activity which does not contribute to societal welfare. Nothing is produced except for an artificial transfer of wealth. While Jewish law disqualifies only professional gamblers from giving testimony in a court of law - as by dint of their profession they "are not involved in the settling of the world" (Sanhedrin 24b), all forms of gambling are frowned upon, even if done for recreational purposes. Gambling should not, however, be confused with risk taking. While investing in the stock market may be a "gamble" the market itself serves a crucial economic function and participating in it even if one is "betting" on which way the market will move presents few ethical pitfalls.
In today's complex economy, and mode of fund-raising the issue of gambling has become much more nuanced. Ontario and Nevada have legalized gambling in which thousands of jobs are dependant and which raise millions of dollars for government coffers. While one could advance many arguments against the legalization of gambling, and while the activities inside the casinos may be of little merit one can not honestly argue that they serve no useful function, at least after they have been established. Perhaps one can now argue that for recreational purposes one would be allowed to visit such a casino. Is a night at the slot machines much different than spending money on a sporting event? Both spectator sports and gambling contribute little from a moral perspective but in addition to the important economic impact may provide a evening of relaxation and fun, something which in moderation is most necessary and worthy from a religious perspective .
Even less problematic, is participation in the myriads of government sanctioned lotteries. While some rabbinic authorities have prohibited them as a form of inappropriate gambling, the generally accepted view is to allow one to purchase a lottery ticket. This is due to the fact that most of the monies go to support all kinds of permissible and even laudatory activities, be they educational or recreational initiatives. It is hard to find a Jewish institution worth its weight that does not have some kind of fundraising lottery. Presumably most people who purchase such tickets do so more to support the institution than the hope of winning -thus rendering it more like a donation and less like gambling.
Religious organizations must also be concerned with the type of message they may be sending when they raise money. Thus Rav Moshe Feinstein in attempting to find a balance between raising funds and the appropriate role of a synagogue ruled that a "Bingo" fundraiser could be sanctioned if not done on synagogue premises.
While all of the above gambling scenarios are games of chance, betting on sporting events present an additional mortal factor. In games of chance people understand that they can not control the outcome and thus willingly (more or less) part with their money when they lose. However when a certain amount of skill is involved such intent may be missing. Jewish law demands that for an agreement to be binding there must be full consent. Many authorities rule that in placing a bet where one relies on his own skill that consent is missing - as one is only betting because one "knows" they will win. Thus one enters into the bet without the clear intent to pay should one lose, because one never expects to lose. Thus collecting such winning may run afoul of the prohibition of theft.