UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

At Issue

Gambling: You bet it’s fun

By Michael Webster

I’m in favour of gambling. Of course, I’m lucky. In the same way that I can enjoy a glass of wine without any urge to finish the whole bottle, I can make a bet and, win or lose, feel no need to make another. As for video lottery terminals (VLTs), those most addictive of gambling machines, I tried one once to see what it was like and can sum up my experience in three words: boring, boring, boring.

I’m also fortunate to have learned how to gamble in the state of Nevada, the home of North American gambling. I waited tables in a Reno casino where residents know the three rules of gambling:  one, bet only what you can afford to lose; two, the odds favour the house, so in the long run, the casino always wins; three, get your money’s worth from the enjoyment of playing, not the hope of winning. If you can’t live with those rules, walk away from the table or the machine or the racetrack and never go back.

Gambling is not risk-free, but it does have a positive side. At a previous pastoral charge, I spent Wednesday afternoons from April to September on the golf course with some buddies. We placed a series of 25-cent bets on every hole. The betting system was complicated, and the complexity of it was part of the fun. Oh yes, fun — that’s why I’m in favour of gambling. Our games were full of guy humour, which involves relentless teasing and minor practical jokes, such as parking your golf cart over the other fellow’s ball while pretending to help him look for it. As well as giving substance to the winner’s bragging rights (“Don’t forget to bring lots of quarters on Wednesday”), the bets gave us something else to kid each other about on the course. To put that in church language, they provided another avenue for the building of relationship.

And that is — or ought to be — the value of gambling. Whether it’s a poker game with friends, a bet with your kids with the week’s ironing at stake or one between a couple for sexual favours (a bet nobody loses), a friendly wager can enhance relationships without destroying souls.

But that’s not what our church says. The United Church’s policy on gambling, written in 1977 and updated periodically, lists two dozen motivations for people to gamble. Almost all are negative, ranging from the simple (boredom, frustration, greed) to the complex (pathological desire to lose, sublimation of aggression against society). No mention of fun and not a word about relationship building.

Gambling, in my view, is morally reprehensible only when it loses its ability to build relationship. Staring across a felt table at a blackjack dealer is only marginally less impersonal than loading $100 into a VLT. Like alcohol, gambling has its benefits but can also be destructive, and governments that cut taxes while increasing gambling revenues are doing their communities no favours. Indeed, it may be governments that are most addicted to the false promise of easy money. Having said that, a prohibition on gambling wouldn’t work any better than one on alcohol, and I would rather see casinos run by governments than by gangsters.
In the meantime, does anyone want to bet a basketful of ironing that Tiger Woods won’t win the Masters this month?

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image
Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Society

January 2018

The good death

by Pieta Woolley

Anglican professor Donald Grayston made dying in peace a lifetime project. His example is inspiring others to plan a meaningful exit.

Faith

January 2018

In the beginning

by Alanna Mitchell

The award-winning science writer travels to northern Australia to explore the world's oldest creation story

Faith

January 2018

Me, Dad and the Almighty

by Anne Bayin

A preacher’s kid pretended to be a devout daughter, but secretly she felt lost in a wilderness of doubt.

Promotional Image