Friday, December 30, 2005

Gambling & Other Vices

SIL posted yesterday about Chinese Auctions*, which not only garnered a number of excellent comments, but also spawned talk about gambling and the like. JH commented,
The halachic definition of gambling isn't so simple...I think there are a lot of "chance/skill" games that do not constitute gambling (ie. Poker tournaments for a charity). It would be nice if someone posted detailing the halachos of gambling etc.
Ironically**, Gil wrote a post at Hirhurim today which discusses a couple of views on addictions in general (including gambling). After essentially noting that becoming addicted to anything is a problem, he stated:
What about Chinese Auctions and charity raffles? I'm guessing that these are also addictive gambling and that R. Willig's strong words apply to them as well.

UPDATE: To clarify, R. Willig is very concerned about people whose addictions being with what many consider to be mundane instances. One Purim cigarette a year isn't going to get you hooked. But, study after study tells us, every addict begins with that one cigarette. Every gambler starts of with some innocuous form of gambling. It behooves our community to not start people off on paths of addiction.

I should add two things. First: R. Mordechai Willig does not discuss Chinese Auctions. That is my extension of his comments. Second: R. Asher Meir disagrees***.
So, if your gambling event is meant to be an entertaining evening for people who are happy to support your organization, by all means go ahead. But if you want to create a business which will cater to gambling aficionados, then you must be extra careful not to take advantage of people nor to condone gambling as a way of life...

You're on safe ground if everyone feels they're in a "win-win" situation: either they make a little money, or they give much-needed help to a worthy cause.
JH and I both took issue with the 'every addiction starts with one' point in the comments, and both of us seem to be making similar points (JH actually wrote a complete post on this as well). While every addiction must start somewhere, it is the individual who must be careful not to involve himself with any activity that may be addictive. It does not make sense to say that all activities which may lead to someone becoming addicted not be done - taken to the extreme, even alcohol for kiddush would be problematic. As JH stated,
I still stand by my position that halachic prohibition is dependant on the individual and not the institution.
This seems logical enough to me.

* Others have covered this as well, including Orthomom & Yeshiva Orthodoxy.

** While Gil has commented here in the past, I doubt he saw this post. However, perhaps JH asked him to write about it.

*** The link is fascinating, and discusses gambling in general. It argues against certain halachic misconceptions some people have about gambling.

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  1. I like your link to R' Asher Meir. I whole heartedly agree with his position. Gambling is a means to attract an audience for an entertaining program for a higher cause...I have little expectation going into a lottery/auction/game night that I am actually going to win an Oorah auction (lousy odds) or poker tournament (bad poker face!).

    Also, thanks for the props.

  2. You are very welcome. The link was actually from Gil, though...

    I like R' AM's (implied) point that people with realistic expectations have no issue playing a friendly game of poker.

  3. Reality? Who lives reality? We Americans live by the credit card!