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2003-05-04 - 8:08 p.m.

Is Gambling a Virtuous Deed?

How does one judge what is a virtue and what is a vice? A vice is by definition "an evil, degrading, or immoral practice or habit" or "a slightly personal failing," depending on how far down the morality chain one wants to look. A virtue is by definition "moral excellence and righteousness." In essence, one must look at something by the qualities associated with them. Let's have a look at gambling:

The Good Side of Gambling

Gambling generates income. Income stimulates the economy. Gambling has also been used in many states to generate funds to help with state programs such as schools, road building, police and rescue response pay raises, just to name a few. Yes, these are worthy causes to support Gambling, but are they virtuous?

The Bad Side of Gambling

Many people who gamble on a regular basis, everyone from bingo players to high rollers, admit that they are addicted to the prospects of "winning big." I have heard and witnessed horror stories of people who gamble away their rent money, their food money, money used to send their kids to school, etc. And there are the stories of people who gamble in major gambling states like Las Vegas who have lost their homes, businesses, cars, etc. to the "House" to cover their losses. In this sense, a gambler can be likened to a junkie needing his or her next fix and will do anything to obtain money for that fix. Does this make Gambling a vice?

I remember as a teenager some of my friends' parents buying a book called "The Book of Virtues" by William J. Bennett. This book outlined how good christians could live a moral and virtuous life by following some of Mr. Bennett's principles. This didn't set too well with my rebellious friends, many of which ran away from home to escape these stringent laws being laid down in their household due to this book. We were all raised in a Southern Baptist church and many of my friends already attended that church's school. The laws there were already creating quite a rebellious group of teenagers. This book only esculated that rebellion.

I never personally read that book and thankfully my own parents never bought it or adopted its principles. However, Virginia, the state I grew up in, had just adopted Lottery to help generate funds for Virginia's failing state programs. Since Mr. Bennett didn't list gambling as one of those horrible vices in his book, the church nor my friends' parents voted against the lottery bill.

I am not sure if many people are familiar with some Baptist Church principles, but any time a major issue comes up that could affect the congregation or the church as a whole, the Pastor does a whole sermon on the issue and then requests that the members of the church take a vote on the issue. Whatever direction the majority decides is what every member is committed to take, even those who may disagree. Our church had adopted Mr. Bennett's book and its principles. Gambling wasn't a vice according to its lack of appearance in his book, so therefore, it must be a virtue and could be supported.

A recent news article on Mr. Bennett brought all of the above back to memory. The New York Times describes Mr. Bennett as "author of "The Book of Virtues" and one of the nation's most relentless moral crusaders, is a high-rolling gambler who has lost more than $8 million at casinos in the last decade, according to online reports from two magazines."

The two magazines mentioned are The Washington Monthly and Newsweek. Both magazines describe how Bennett has been a preferred customer for decades at casinos in both Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Newsweek states "40 pages of internal casino documents show that Mr. Bennett received treatment typical of high-stakes gamblers, including limousines and 'tens of thousands of dollars in complimentary hotel rooms and other amenities.'" What makes this newsworthy is the high losses these two magazines were able to uncover, some totally as much as $1.4 million at a single loss. Mr. Bennett did say though that he has won as many times as he has lost and that he has "broken even" over the years and that his gambling hasn't affected his family.

I do have to say though that I see some hypocrisy in Mr. Bennett's response when asked about his gambling:

"I view it as drinking," he said. "If you can't handle it, don't do it."

Drinking was one of Mr. Bennett's major vices listed in "The Book of Virtues". Are Americans who raised whole households of children on Mr. Bennett's principles cringing now at the sheer hypocrisy? Probably not.

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