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Can One Bet on Sports, Politics or Anything Else?

Rabbi Shmuel Binyomin Honigwachs

Question: Today, there is a big gambling industry, with people placing bets on sports, elections, and many other things. Is such betting permitted according to halacha?

Answer: The Gemara discusses something called mesachek b’kuvya, which is a form of gambling. The Rambam rules that mesachek b’kuvya is “avak gezel”, close to stealing. Such activity falls under the category of asmachta, which basically means that the losing party only entered into the deal because he thought he would win, and never really committed to pay if he loses; therefore, it is close to stealing to take his money.

The extent of asmachta is more stringent for Sefardim than for Ashkenazim. The Rema rules that if both parties place their money in a central location and agree that whoever wins will take possession of the money, this is a good kinyan and neither side can claim that it was asmachta and they weren’t really serious. Accordingly, there would be no issue to engage in betting on a forum where the money is put up front and placed with a third party to hold, as is the case with most contemporary forums.   (However, there are other issues and it should be avoided- see Mishna Brura 322:22)

Rav Ovadiah Yosef says that Sefardim never accepted this leniency of the Rema; therefore, he rules that it would be forbidden to play the lottery in Eretz Yisroel.

In America, however, it can be assumed that the other party in a betting forum is a non-Jew, who has no prohibition of taking your money if you lose; therefore, there would be no prohibition to be part of such a forum.

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