For Swaim, the key moral aspect is what gambling “reveals about the gambler,” especially desire or lust for wealth. The last of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17) even forbids private inward thoughts of material desire or coveting, and Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount that “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
Yet another moral problem for Swaim is the fact that a certain portion of gamblers “will end up addicted and in financial and moral ruin.” More on that below.
Looking at Judaism, a Super weekend survey in The Forward noted that the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the prime thinker for the “modern Orthodox” movement, denounced casino attendance and that’s the view of “pretty much every other authority” on Jewish law, before and since. Even the rabbis of Judaism’s liberal Reform branch have called gambling “non-productive and threatening to the social fabric.” A noted Jewish therapist says even seemingly innocent small bets can be a gateway to addiction.
Among Christians, there’s a notable split between tolerant Catholics and Protestants, who’ve been mostly hostile. The two largest U.S. Protestant bodies, which disagree on many things, are both resolute in opposition.
The Southern Baptist Convention has campaigned on the issue since 1890 and continues to believe gambling “must be vigorously resisted.” It agrees with Swaim’s points on something-for-nothing attitudes, materialism, and covetousness, and contends that “gambling seeks personal gain and pleasure at another person’s loss and pain.” It also decries the fostering of crime, public corruption, and “personal catastrophe.”
The United Methodist Church’s official Book of Discipline states that faithful Christians should avoid all forms of gambling, including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, Internet wagering, and other “games of chance,” even if proponents justify these as money-raisers for charities or useful government programs. It calls gambling “a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship.”
Catholicism has a far more relaxed viewpoint, demonstrated in many parishes’ Bingo fund-raisers. The “Dictionary of Moral Theology,” edited by the then head of the Vatican’s highest tribunal, sidestepped all those Protestant worries and treated gambling as a pleasant “pastime” so long as games are fair and free of fraud.
But some are wary. “The Catholic Church views gambling as a legitimate form of entertainment when done in moderation,” the bishops of Massachusetts stated in 2014, but nonetheless they urged repeal of a pro-casino law for creating “a new form of predatory gaming” that preys on lower-income addicts “who can least afford to gamble.” Last year, the liberal Catholics for Equality said in light of Pope Francis’s teaching on responsibility to the needy it is “difficult to see how gambling of any kind can be justified.”
And there’s this. Until a 1983 rewrite, Catholic canon law specified that priests must shun “gambling games with risks of money.”
CONTINUE READING: “Is Gambling Evil?”, by Richard Ostling.
FIRST IMAGE: Uncredited art with “8 Reasons why online gambling is more addictive than casino gambling,” a feature at the Castle Craig website.