Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 3 - The Case for the Permissibility of Gambling

The Case for the Permissibility of Gambling

There are a number of reasons given for allowing gambling, even among professing Christians. Often quite convincing, the supporters of legalized gambling make passionate arguments supporting their views while also calling into question the views of those who argue against gambling. Here a review of five common reasons in support of the permissibility of gambling are explained in detail. Though not an exhaustive list, the general notion of the arguments in support of gambling are represented.

Gambling is Merely a Form of Entertainment

Casinos are in the business of organizing the play of games. This is a fact which is not in dispute. However, the games those casinos organize are played for money and for providing this service, casino operators charge what they consider a reasonable fee. The commercial gaming industry has worked very hard for many years to change the image the public have of gambling from that of vice to a view of gaming being merely one form of entertainment. This is an important distinction. If people considered the gaming industry to be a business similar to peddling drugs or pornography, public perception would be decidedly different. However, the gaming industry has successfully reinvented itself as participants in the leisure or entertainment industry rendering a visit to the casino a normal part of someone having fun rather than some sort of moral failing.[1]

If commercial gambling is a form of entertainment, what exactly is the entertainment casinos are selling? There is the pleasure of simply playing games. Whether playing with/against others in some sort of table games or playing by oneself on a video poker machine, the simply joy of play the game is for sale. There is also the fantasy of hitting the big jackpot and becoming wealthy.[2] The lottery offers the clearest example of this where winners of the weekly drawings are used in the advertising campaigns of the respective lotteries where those players won. There is also the pleasure of escaping the ordinary, boring, and even stressful part of life and going to a place that is stimulating, congenial, and even thrilling. Such an escape offers the benefit of being allowing the player to be both a spectator and participant at will in an unfolding drama.[3] The best part for the player is that it will all be there the next time the player returns to escape for the pressures of daily living. All this benefit for the individual without the worrisome issue of harming anyone!

This reinventing of themselves by the commercial gaming industry from purveyors of vice to respectable participants in the entertainment industry has also altered the discussion from the perspective of government regulation. Rather than discussing how best to regulate gambling, if permitted, along with other things such as tobacco or alcohol, the discussion has now shifted to one centering on regulating how Americans are permitted to play. Of course, this is a very different discussion and impacts people in a far different manner. Further, this is a significant shift from previous years where gambling was lumped in with tobacco, alcohol, prostitution, etc.

The Utility of Gambling

By taking a teleological, or utilitarian, approach to the permissibility of gambling, we arrive at the conclusion that those who engage in this activity derive obvious pleasure from doing so without causing any obvious pain to anyone else.[4] So in the case of state-sponsored lotteries, the players benefit from the pleasure of the game while the state receives funds for worthy uses such as education and has the added benefit of employing those who manage the lottery itself. There are economic benefits to those who supply commercial gaming services – the investors and employees. Let us not forget the additional tax revenues those commercial gaming operators pay into the state coffers. On its face, it would seem there are many winners and no losers which in turn will provide the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people. As such, based on utilitarian principles, the government should allow legal gambling.

Social Justice and Gambling

The argument for social justice, also known as distributive justice, in support of permitting gambling is based on the claim that doing so is a good way to raise funds for public interest projects and, particularly, to redistribute funds from those higher up the socioeconomic ladder to those lower. Therefore, if allowing gambling allows government to fund projects that are mostly paid for by the affluent yet mostly benefit the poor, then it is said to contribute to social justice.[5]

A great deal of public policy is driven by the quest for morality. The question is not whether morality can be legislated but rather, whose morality should be legislated?[6] It is generally accepted that alleviating poverty is in the public interest. Addressing poverty by redistributing from richer to poorer, however, is disputed by some who believe the only legitimate way to address social ills is by raising taxes on all citizens. In the United States, political parties regularly develop policies that make the government responsible for limiting poverty and the worst effects it has on the citizenry. As a people, Americans generally believe that everyone should be fed, clothed, housed, and educated.

The Freedom to Engage in Gambling

To say that individual freedom is an important aspect of being an American is to make a gross understatement. Individual liberty is a way of life for the majority of Americans. Using the power of government to limit individual freedom is in opposition to the American ideal that people should be free to live their lives as they see fit. This should include their right to meet their desire to be entertained provided the entertainment has minimal, indirect impact on others and any participation by others must be consenting adults.[7] This matter of individual freedom is no small matter. If people are not free in the area of entertainment, they will not be free in other areas.

If government is allowed to restrict what some people are permitted to do on the grounds that another segment of the population finds the activity to be foolish, unhealthy, or immoral, then it will only be a matter of time before a different segment of the population finds behavior acceptable to the first group to be undesirable. When this happens, division follows and the notion of whose morality is legislated becomes a much larger concern for people on both side of the debate. Further, such a view of freedom is decidedly counter to deontological ethics as there is no perceived duty to society, only to oneself and protecting the rights of the individual. Exactly what do citizens owe to society at large? Is ensuring that the pursuit of pleasure is limited only to consenting adults causing no harm to anyone enough?

Gambling is Present in the Bible

The notion that gambling is present in the Bible may not sit well with some Christians but it is true. Simply making such a statement in some circles is enough to start a rather heated argument. Regardless, the fact remains that while Christ hung on the cross, the Roman soldiers threw dice gambling for His garments as described in Matthew 27:35 (fulfilling Psalm 22:18). Roman soldiers gambling while others looked on, mocked by passersby, and even one of the criminals who hung on an adjacent cross made disparaging remarks (Luke 23:39). What a scene that must have been for those looking on who knew and loved the Savior.

There appears to be additional evidence from the Bible in support of gambling. Not long after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Apostle Peter announced that a replacement for Judas must be chosen. After narrowing the selection down to two candidates, the method they chose to use to make the final determination was the casting of lots (Acts 1:12-26).

Though two examples have been presented from the New Testament, it is important to note that there is additional support in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 16: 6-10, Aaron cast lots to determine which goat would be used for the sin offering. The land west of the Jordon was divided by lots (Joshua 14:2) as was the remaining land (Joshua 18:6). Numbers 26:52-56; 33:54; and 34:13 all make references to dividing the land by lot. There are other examples in the Old Testament that could be provided but the point would be the same. The casting of lots was common throughout the Bible.

A final note on the presence of gambling in the Bible is in order before concluding this section of the discussion. While there appear to be examples of gambling in both the Old and New Testaments, nowhere is the word gambling actually found in Scripture. The unavoidable fact is that there are no biblical texts that refer to gambling.



[1] Collins, Peter. Gambling and the Public Interest. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 20-21.

[2] Ibid, 22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 42-43.

[5] Ibid, 45-46.

[6] Geisler, Norman, and Frank Turek. Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 20-25.

[7] Collins, 47-49.

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