Bless Me, Father…

Gambling and religion? How the world's great Faiths have reconciled with the temptation of test your luck.

Bless Me, Father…

When Global Market Advisors’ Steve Gallaway and Andrew Tottenham came to me with the story in this month’s GGB about gambling in the Muslim world, I jumped at it because I had never read any in-depth report on how gambling and Islam coexist. After all, Islam is a religion that’s very strict about right and wrong, and gambling definitely falls on the “wrong” side. But the GMA piece shows us why you should not discount Muslims when marketing your gaming property.

I’m old enough to remember when the Arab sheiks were the “whales” of the casino industry in the 1960s and ’70s, primarily in the casinos of the “swinging” London of its day. All you need to do is watch any James Bond movie and see him play chemin de fer with the sheiks to know that they enjoyed an honest—or sometimes less than honest—gamble. While the Quran cites gambling as a “grave sin” and “abominations of Satan’s handiwork,” it also seems to hedge its bets when it remarks on gambling and wine: “In them both lies grave sin, though some benefit, to mankind.”

But of course the Quran isn’t the only holy book that condemns gambling. The Bible equates the “love of money” with gambling, calling for believers to be content with what they have. Mormons are advised not to play cards simply because of the connection to gambling. Hindus are taught to avoid gambling because of the concept of karma—basically, what goes around comes around. Buddhism doesn’t directly condemn gambling—it’s a little more tolerant—but does decry the motivating factor of greed. Jews are also a bit more accepting of gambling, but not by much. In the Talmud, rabbis call gambling a risky proposition, and addictive. They say the winner is really a loser because the loser doesn’t expect to lose and therefore winning the bet is tantamount to stealing.

I’ve had discussions many times, working in the industry and reporting on it, about how people of faith can work in a business with the basic goal of winning money from gamblers. I’ve known some who have simply quit the industry altogether over this supposed dichotomy. One actually became a monk!

But most people who work in gaming have good hearts. They understand that gaming is a form of entertainment, and like any other, it costs money. You just pay that money in a somewhat unconventional way.

And when you really investigate the objections that mainstream religions have to gambling, they often crumble.

Growing up a Catholic, I remember the emphasis given to the weekly bingo games in the church hall. They would attract hundreds of people each week, and the money earned there went to the betterment of the parish.

As a gaming observer, it didn’t take long to note the proliferation of Mormons within the gaming industry. Maybe it began with Howard Hughes, who reportedly hired a staff made up completely of Mormons because he perceived them to be honest and incorruptible. I can name at least a half-dozen Mormons off the top of my head who rose to high levels in the casino industry.

When I was a dealer in Atlantic City, I witnessed busloads of Hasidic Jews from New York being dropped off to spend the day gambling in the casino. They were often big players and usually enjoyed their time at the tables.

So, no religion has a corner on the “holier than thou” market. If a believer can find a loophole in his religion’s rules, so be it. He can be like me—a “supermarket” Catholic who picks and chooses what he believes and doesn’t believe. At any rate, no one should judge the person sitting on the other side of the table or at one of the slot machines because of the religion they seem to be representing.

For those of us in the industry, I see no conflict between being religious or even just a spiritual person and working in this business. As long as you individually treat the customer and your fellow employees with respect, are aware of any harm that may occur through their participation in this enterprise and live a life in line with the tenets of your religion or your sense of right and wrong, working in the casino industry should be no different than any other job.

Roger Gros
Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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