Essay / Culture


When did gambling become o.k.?California is about to vote on expanding gambling in the state. Almost no one dares oppose it on moral grounds. If you do so, then you sound like a prude. Is it moral to gamble? Before dealing with that question, let me address the question of legality. One could vote that gaming clubs should be allowed in areas, but that no one should go to them or work for them. Christian conservatives must always remember making a thing legal is not making it moral.The best reason to make gambling legal is on the grounds of liberty. Even if immoral, what is the state interest in making it a crime? Many people want to gamble and by making them “criminals” the state runs the risk of breaking the contract it has with citizens. The state should make as few moral decisions as possible. It should not condone immorality (gay marriage) or legalize murder (abortion), but it should not make every unwise choice illegal. For that reason, I think there is a good argument for regulating gambling (and certain “soft” drugs), but allowing people to choose to be bad.The difficulty with that position is that some folk then turn around and believe that the state allowing a thing is the same as declaring it “good.” This is a result of statist education. Most people recognize only the state as an external authority. If that state does not punish it, then no one else should. However, in a healthy society there are civic organizations (church, work, family) that can impose sanctions far more severe (in some ways) than the state. One problem in our culture has been the decline of these organizations as the state has grown. We need to be able to forcefully condemn a thing (homosexual activity) without being forced either to condone it (gay marriage) or make it illegal as the only options.Whether legal or illegal, some drugs should not be used for recreation, for example. One cannot indulge in some substances without a fairly powerful “high.” Just as drinking is only licit without drunkenness for a Christian (a man’s rational faculties must always be in control), so any use of a substance that leads to a mind-altering high right away cannot be good. A mild lift from a cup of joe, a diet coke, or a glass of a good wine is obviously acceptable. It does not prevent rational decision making.The best reason to make gambling illegal is its impact on neighborhoods and society. I do not know many family people who want to live near a casino. Even in states where legal, gambling attracts family unfriendly problems. People have a right not to be forced to live near prostitution and drunkenness. Property values can be destroyed by a casino. (I realize that this is hard to “prove,” since data on both sides of this issue gets manipulated. I am relying on an overview of research and common sense.) Since gambling behavior “bleeds” from one town to another, it seems like counties (at least) should be able to choose not to have such behavior out in the open. If a county wants to look like Bedford Falls in It’s a Wonderful Life before Potter, then it should be allowed to do so. If a county wants to look like the town when owned by Potter (Girls! Girls! Girls!) should also be allowed to do so. (That should not stop the church in the area from pointing out what a nasty hell hole the citizens have allowed themselves to be!)In a state the size of California, gambling should be legal (in my opinion) on a state level, but open to county option. If LA County want to make it illegal, it should be able to do so. The state should heavily regulate gambling so that “gaming” does not end up doing illegal things to pressure counties.On the other hand, organizing gambling strikes me as immoral. However, it is immoral in a “secondary” sense. Some things are wrong by nature (murder, stealing). Other things are wrong if done excessively that are good in moderation (eating, drinking). Other things are not wrong or good in themselves, but frequently lead to wrong behavior due to human nature. A friendly wager can add spice to a football game (“You buy the pizza!”). A card game amongst friends with a small pot that everyone can afford (poker for a fifty) seems harmless. The point of the event is not “winning the money” but adding some prize to the competition. Does anyone buy a ticket to a church raffle desperate for the prize? (If so, then they have a problem.) However, organized gaming of the sort that sucked in Bill Bennett seems immoderate. The games seem less the point than the money. It seems to feed into a love of money and an irrational belief in fortune or luck. It also wastes huge amounts of time that could be better spent. Organized gambling sites (such as casinos) also encourage other more clearly bad behaviors (drunkenness, lust) to encourage immoderate behavior that leads to losing money. In short, organized gambling depends on bad behavior (being immoderate*) to generate revenue. It has to encourage a vice to stay in business.In short, I would never vote to legalize gambling in my own community. However, it does not seem right to make it illegal for every other community. I don’t think “gambling establishments” are good and tend in a secondary sense to lead to harm. Spending large amounts of money (Bill Bennett) or time (again Bennett) gambling is wrong, even if one can afford it. (Wrong because immoderate and a waste of time and resources. Even if I can afford to burn money in my front yard, I should not do so for entertainment. My “amusements” are disordered.)*Immoderate: acting in an excessive (“One more drink, please!”) or defective (“Fun! We don’t have fun here! We are religious!”) way. In most things, moderation is the key to morality. Of course somethings are naturally base (murder) and some naturally good (faith).

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