Faith-based gaming

I’ve explained, opined, asserted, declared, and suggested, but at last I’ve reached the stage in my career where I can quip. From the Daily Review:

After defeat at polls in 1974, a gaming referendum in New Jersey succeeded two years later thanks to an alliance between gaming interests and the Roman Catholic Church, explained David Schwartz, of the Institute of Gaming Studies [sic] at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Priestly blessings at casino ribbon cuttings aren’t unheard of, but aren’t routine either, he said.
“I certainly see a lot of people praying in the casino after it opens,” Mr. Schwartz quipped.

Multi-faceted clergyman: Indicted priest with alleged mob ties has many friends, talents

I really don’t have too much to say about this one. Trust me, I’m not quitting my day job for a career as a stand-up comic who specializes in gaming-related humor.

Jesus and the WSOP

Most of us–unless we’re Phillip Pullman–would like to think that God, or Divine Providence, is on our side. It’s comforting to think that, in the words of Pharaoh Sanders, “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” and that you are part of it.

But we usually keep our mouths shut about it. Apparently, this year’s WSOP winner was pretty insistent about asking for God’s help during the final table, and that’s got Jeff Simpson irked. From the LV Sun:

This year’s winner, Jerry Yang, a Laotian-American from California, was way more likable than the obnoxious Gold, but the unassuming therapist found a way to annoy me during his final table triumph.

Yang, it seems, is a devout Christian. Good for him.

But there’s something unseemly about a gambler, in the middle of a gambling event, beseeching God for help.

Among Yang’s televised remarks at the final table were: “Let people see a miracle “; “Thank you Lord, Thank you God “; “Lord, you know you have a purpose for me “; and “I will glorify your name.”

During one particularly tense hand, after all the chips had been pushed into the middle but a couple of cards had yet to be dealt, Yang asked for help.

“Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, let me win this one,” he murmured.

Maybe it’s me, but it just seems wrong to be asking God to deliver a card.

Las Vegas SUN: Jeff Simpson notes that the past two winners of the World Series of Poker’s main event haven’t been great for the game

Actually, in my research for Roll the Bones, I happened across a description of a Roman dicing board dating from the early Christian period that said pretty much the same thing as Yang. Here’s the relevant text:

If after this manner one should play at the throws of the alveus, Jesus Christ gives victory, and assistance to those who wrote his name, even in such trifling matters as playing this game.

That’s from James Christie. An Inquiry into the Ancient Greek Game Supposed to Have Been Invented by Palamedes, Antecedent to the Siege of Troy. London: W. Bulmer and Co., 1801.

My point is that this has been going on a long time. Even back then, they thought it was inappropriate to ask for divine intervention into gambling, but they kept on doing it. It’s easy for us to say that it’s just a game, but I’m guessing that when you’re a the final table of the WSOP, it seems like anything but a trifle. Still, this might be a prayer better offered without words–at least ones that everyone else can hear.

Gambling can lead to deviationism?

According to one Malaysian parliamentarian, gambling leads to superstition. From The Star:

-In the kampung, when people want to win numbers games, they go to see the bomoh and even make offerings to trees so that their numbers will come up winners.

-All this shows that gambling can make people carry out deviationist practices,” said Datuk Badruddin Amiruldin (BN Jerai) who queried whether Malaysia, as an Islamic country, should continue to enourage gambling.

Finance Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Hilmi Yahaya in reply said he was amazed that Badruddin was an expert on these matters.

He said gambling was a matter of individual choice.
Gambling can lead to superstition, says MP

I think both men are right–gambling is a matter of personal choice, but throughout history gamblers have been supremely superstitious.

Gambling has always been a way of dealing with the unknown, just like superstition.

In other news, the Powerball lottery here in the US is up to a whopping $340 million. Do you think anyone’s rubbing their lucky rabbit’s feet?

Gambling at the Last Supper?

Another day, another clash between religion and gambling, it seems. First of all, a Mississippi state representative from Pass Christian has called would-be moralists out over their insistence that Katrina was doing God’s bidding:

Rep. Jim Simpson of Pass Christian couldn’t believe the e-mails he received from some self-proclaimed Christians this week attempting to lobby against casinos rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

“I’ve gotten more than half a dozen from people who said, ‘I prayed for the destruction of Katrina. This is God’s wrath,'” said Simpson. “I got so mad I wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t respond. Not yet.”

Many of Simpson’s constituents died in Katrina. He lost his home and his business and pretty much everything he owns.

“I’m going to get together a list of all the obituaries,” Simpson said, “and send them in my response to them. I’m going to send that list and ask, ‘OK, was this part of your prayers? Did you want this to happen?’

Again, I’m not going to claim any kind of moral high ground or divine inspiration, but it seems to me that anyone who prays for harm to befall someone else is pretty twisted.

That’s not the biggest story that mixes gambling with religion today, though. For that we can thank Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaking company that felt it would be a tremendous laugh to restyle Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper–as a gambling party.
Continue reading “Gambling at the Last Supper?”

God strikes back?

I’ve been waiting to hear this: the hurricanes that have recently struck the Gulf Coast are, apparently, God’s way of punishing us. Unfortunately, no one can agree just what we’ve done that’s so bad. There’s the usual suspects–gambling, drinking, etc–but nearly every religious zealot with a beef is stepping up to the plate on this one.
Continue reading “God strikes back?”

Solid socio-economic research

I get people asking me all the time for quantative measures of the “social impact” of gambling. I try to convince them that such a thing is hard to measure. But, if you’re unhampered by standards of academic rigor, it’s easy to make wildly inaccurate claims based on second-hand evidence.

Take, for example, this letter to the editor in the Sun-Sentinel:
Continue reading “Solid socio-economic research”

Bible study (updated)

Gambling has been around for thousands of years, and many religions have at least tolerated it in moderation. Still, many churches offer religious objections to gambling.A recent letter to the editor in the Jamaica Gleaner lays out a Christian pro-gambling argument:

CHRISTIAN GREETINGS. It is with great trepidation that I write this letter, asking the question ‘What principle of the Bible shows it wrong to gamble?’ I have seen many letters by Christian commentators saying that the practice of gambling is to be shunned. In fact, I understand that leaders of the religious community have pressured the Government in the past against casino gambling and lotteries, in particular. Which Bible verse was quoted to justify this?

A brief analysis shows the following:

1. God is not against the taking of risk.
a) Men and women took great risk, sometimes to death’s door, in their lives, e.g. Esther, the three Hebrew boys etc.
b) When God created this world he ran the risk of man sinning and hence for the Son of God to come and die for men’s sins.
c) The Son of God in coming down to earth risking his life for fallen mankind took one of the greatest gambles (If he had sinned, he would have lost his life ­ the Father is no respecter of persons.)
2. God is not against the casting of lots i.e. raffling. (See Acts 1:26).
3. God won one of the most famous bets of all time when he bet Satan that Job would remain faithful to him. (Read the book of Job)!

A word of warning and advice: Sinners would be wise to repent and avoid the risk of God’s wrath!

My questions are: Is it evil or covetous to expect high returns from high-risk investments? Isn’t it evil and covetous for Christians to charge their fellow Christians interest on loans? (see Lev 25:35-37). Isn’t it evil and covetous to underpay your helpers, gardeners, practical nurses, pump attendants, etc.? (see James 5:1-4)


A prudent banker would teach us that we should act in a way to minimise our risk so that one would obviously tend to invest the least funds in the portfolio of highest risk. Thus one would first seek to invest in education to gain employment, after which surplus funds can be invested in a bank account, then insurance, then stock exchange, then finally in, say, a lottery ticket. 

Where does the Bible prohibit gambling?

The writer, Keith Coombs of Kingston, Jamaica, offers some good points.  I would be interested in hearing the theological case against gambling as well.  Does Max Weber’s interpretation of the “Protestant work ethic” mean that Protestantism is inherently anti-risk, and therefore anti-gambling? What do other religions say?

UPDATE, 7/29

Here is a rebuttal letter, also from the Jamaica Gleaner, written by Diane Berlin of Pennsylvania:

Gambling is NOT entertainment, as touted by the pushers. It is a predatory activity. When one gambles, he or she wants to take what belongs to others without earning it or it being given freely as a gift would be. Under any other circumstances, that is robbery or theft.

In fact, gambling has been called theft by consent or robbery with permission. The 10Commandments address both coveting and stealing. Gambling undermines, and even destroys, the work ethic. Labour is advocated in the Bible. Ordinary activities all have an element of risk-taking in them… even crossing the street does. This is very different from gambling.

Gambling’s negatives include addiction, bankruptcies, crime, corruption, divorce, violence, child abuse, homelessness, etc. Gambling recycles wealth, usually from many losers to the pockets of the gambling kingpins. It does not create new wealth.

The recent legalisation of gambling has desensitised people to its harmful effects and the reasons it was an illegal activity in most countries. Wise people learn from the mistakes of others. There are many people and countries which have made the mistake of embracing gambling to their detriment. The Bible advocates wisdom ­ whether Jewish or Christian ­ that is not bad advice for any person or government.

Gambling is really ‘theft by consent’

While certainly impassioned, this letter just says that gambling is bad–it doesn’t cite anyplace where the Bible specifically attacks gambling.

Look for this debate to continue.