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Gaming and Gambling.


Gaming and Gambling.

James Dodson



THERE is a difference between gaming and gambling. Gaming consists in playing cards, dice, billiards and the like, for mere amusement. Gambling is the practice of gaming for money. And before we enter upon a consideration of the vice of gambling, let us direct our attention a little to the evils of gaming.

I. The inquiry is often put: Where is the harm of a game of billiards or cards? The harm is threefold.

1. In the surroundings. Take a game of billiards, for example. This is a game which depends so much on skill, that it is a question whether it should be put in the category with cards. And yet it is turned to the purposes of gambling. A small stake is put up to give life to the play. And what are generally encountered at the billiard table? Profanity, lewd conversation, vulgar jests, and the drinking of ardent spirits. Besides, this game and similar lead to late hours. The young man is enticed from his home. He is deprived of necessary repose. He is wasting precious time, which should be spent in self-improvement. The man of family is kept away from those whose society he should prefer to all others. His money is wasted, and he acquires the habit of seeking pleasure away from her whom he promised to cherish and protect.

2. Another evil of these games is a fostering of a taste for hazards, which may finally lead to gambling. When a man finds himself an adept at cards, the temptation will be strong, and in many instances irresistible, to profit by his skill, and play for money. He will think it an easy way to get funds. It is taking a viper to the bosom, which when warmed may sting to death.

3. There is a most unhealthy excitement connected with gaming. The player becomes wholly absorbed. The pulse rushes with accelerated speed. The face flushes. The eye stares wildly. The feelings are wrought to the highest pitch, and a state of mind is produced, which often breaks out in unkind words. The love of play grows on that upon which it feeds. The mind becomes as eager for the game, as the drunkard is for his cup. It becomes a passion, and little else is thought of, or desired. And now what is to be said of a game of cards in the family, or at a social gathering? It is often replied, “what harm is in it?” “It helps to pass away an evening.”

“It is related of Mr. [John] Locke, that being invited to a company of the highest rank, and hearing cards called for as soon as dinner was over, he retired thoughtful to a window; and being asked the reason of his seriousness he replied, he had not slept the foregoing night, for the pleasure which their lordships had given him to expect from that day’s conversation, with men of the first character for sense and genius; and he hoped his sorrow for his disappointment would be forgiven. This seasonable rebuke had the proper effect. The game was instantly abandoned, and conversation restored with a brilliancy suitable to the illustrious assembly.”

Says one, “Cards are the universal mode of a whole class of people, who pique themselves on being intelligent and polite, and yet the best that can be said of cards is, that they make people easy by allowing them to be dull, and superseding the necessity of their being entertaining.”

Addison writes in No. 93 of the Spectator, “One of the methods, which I would propose for filling up our time, should be useful and innocent diversion. I must confess, I think it is below reasonable creatures to be altogether conversant in such diversions as are merely innocent,” and have nothing else to recommend them, but that there is no hurt in them; whether any kind of gaming has even thus much to say for itself, I shall not determine; but it is very wonderful to see persons of the best sense, passing away a dozen hours together, in shuffling and dividing a pack of cards, with no other conversation but what is made up of a few game phrases; no other ideas but of black and red spots ranged together in different figures. Meanwhile there is a conflict of the lowest and basest passions. And if there be some skill required, the highest is still so unworthy of ambition, that creatures who do not discover common sense in other things often excel in this. 

The strong desire shall ne’er decay,  
Who plays to win, shall win to play;  
The breast where love had planned his reign,  
Shall burn unquenched with lust of gain;  
And all the charms that wit can boast,  
In dreams of better luck be lost!  
Thus neither innocent nor gay, 

The useless hours shall fleet away;  
While time o’erlooks the trivial strife,  
And, scoffing, shakes the sands of life.


II. Let us now turn our thoughts to the vice of gambling. This assumes several forms, besides the hideous one of the professed gambler.

1. Betting is gambling. Whether a man bets on the speed of a horse, or lays a wager upon the performance or non-performance of any matter, he is gambling. The profane oath is often brought in as a sort of proof, or asseveration; so the offer to bet is supposed to strengthen an assertion. This pernicious habit prevails widely. Bets are often made in sport, and sometimes by those who do not realize the nature of the act, and who would shrink in alarm from avowed gambling. Sometimes the forfeit is to be paid to a charitable institution, but that does not lessen the sin. Betting puts money at hazard, and the recipient gets it without rendering an equivalent to the loser. That is the principle of gambling. This is a wide-spread evil in our country during the exciting period of a Presidential election. Every man ought to be careful that his political fervour does not lead him astray, to accept some provoking banter.

2. Lotteries are another species of Gambling. The lottery system dates back several centuries. It has received the sanction of governments, and in many instances of religious bodies. Lotteries have been resorted to, as a source of revenue to the state; as in France, where, from the years 1816 to 1828 they yielded fourteen millions of francs per annum. Loans have been raised by the same means in Austria, Prussia, and most of the German States; in Great Britain, and in several States of the Union. Public works, colleges, charitable institutions, and even churches have been aided from this source. Thus lotteries enjoyed a kind of sanction, which raised them above ordinary gambling. Yet from the earliest stages of their existence, earnest remonstrances were raised against them. Of late years their ruinous effects upon public morals have been so apparent, that in almost all countries they are now [ca. 1870] prohibited by legislative enactments. But the evil is by no means eradicated. In several States of the Union they are tolerated. Advertisements stare at you in the public journals, stating what sums have been drawn; thus throwing out a bait to the unwary. With unblushing impudence, hand-bills of lottery schemes are thrust into our houses by mail, and the number who are thus ensnared is far larger than is generally supposed.

In no respect is the lottery system removed from gambling. The essential feature is the same, viz. procuring money by chance, and without giving an equivalent for it. Every ticket-holder is a partner in the lottery-game; and the managers are his deputed agents to play it. The attending evils are the same, the exciting of an unnatural thirst for gain, and cherishing the inclination to indulge in games of hazard, which soon becomes an uncontrollable passion.

Most persons are enticed to try lotteries, from a desire to get rich in other ways than by the accumulations of industry. This is a growing evil of the present age. It is poisoning the minds of the young. Men want to live and thrive by speculations, and by fat contracts; so that the humbler walks of toil are despised and forsaken. But be assured that it is no advantage to get rich suddenly. Nine out of ten would be ruined were a fortune thrown into their laps in early life. What men need, is to acquire habits of patience, of self-denial, of steady application to duty, and of prudent forecast, which are as necessary to keep a fortune, as to get it. Without these, wealth is soon squandered. This is a fatal evil of lotteries. So soon, and so easily is money obtained, where one is successful, that it loses its value. This is the history of the few winners in lotteries, while the greater portion by far, of those who buy tickets, waste their money in fruitless efforts to draw a prize. Innumerable instances might be enumerated to prove, that money gained by the lottery is a curse to the winner.

A respectable farmer drew a prize of $10,000. His first expenditures embraced many improvements upon his farm, and the building of a large house. But the tavern soon overcame his attachment to his family, his pecuniary affairs were neglected, he became a bankrupt, a drunkard, and to end his miserable existence, was his own murderer.

Some twenty-eight years ago the clerk in a Boston house, a man in middle life, committed suicide by drowning himself. So eminent was his character for integrity and purity, that when he was found dead, every one believed that he had been murdered, until the acknowledgment of his guilt was found in his own handwriting. It was this. “I have for the last seven months gone fast down the broad road to destruction. The time I note my deviation from the path of rectitude was about the middle of last June, when I took a share in a company of lottery tickets, whereby I was successful in obtaining a share of one half the capital prize, since which I have gone into purchases for myself; and that too not on a very small scale, as you can judge from the amount due J. R. & Co. every dollar of which has been spent in that way. I have lived or dragged out a miserable existence for two or three months past. Oh that seven or eight months of my existence could be blotted out! But no, I must go, and ere this paper is read, my spirit is gone to my Maker, to give an account of my misdeeds here, and receive the dreadful sentence for self-destruction, and abused confidence. Oh wretch! lotteries have been thy ruin.”[1] Thus the winner is drawn on to ruin. God’s frown rests on riches obtained unlawfully.

And the unsuccessful are impoverished. In a period of five years, according to the records of the Insolvent Court of Philadelphia, it was shown that nearly $200,000 were lost by dealing in lottery tickets on the part of those who applied for the benefit of the insolvent law. When cases of embezzlement are traced out, it is very often found that a large part of the purloined money has gone to purchase lottery tickets.

Though public sentiment and state legislation declare against lotteries, so that a ban is put on them, yet one kind of lottery remains, and retains a place in public favour. We refer to raffling in all its forms. Raffling has often been called in to the aid of religious and benevolent fairs, and for this use it is tolerated by many who disapprove of it; while others do not hesitate to pronounce it harmless. But the raffle in its essential features is a lottery. It is an effort to obtain more than a fair equivalent for one’s money. The law denominates it gambling, and forbids it. Yet the law against it has been almost a dead letter.

The judgment must not be deceived by the worthy object in view. In such matters, where morals are at stake, we must regard principles. Where is the distinction between raffling to help on a benevolent purpose, or raffling for a turkey to feed my family? If I may rightfully take a chance to increase the funds of charity, may I not take a chance to put a coat upon my back? If the end justifies the means in the one case, certainly it does in the other. Not a reason can be urged in favour of raffling at fairs, which could not be pleaded by a poor man for private ends.

There are those who refer to the practice mentioned in Scripture of casting lots, and who assert that this sanctions a disposal of things by chance. A moment’s examination of these instances shows, that they do not in the least sanction raffling in any of its forms. The casting of lots referred to in the Bible, generally signifies a mode of deciding that which cannot be left to man’s choice, such as we now are familiar with, in the drawing of names for drafting into the army. That is a lawful mode of deciding, what could not in other ways be decided. Lots were cast in Scripture times, with a sincere desire that God should determine the result. His blessing was devoutly sought. Thus when the eleven Apostles drew lots whether Barnabas or Matthias should fill the place vacated by the suicide of Judas, they first asked the Divine guidance. If raffling at fairs is to be made equivalent to this, then let the resemblance be completed; and as the raffling is about to begin, let a prayer be offered for the presence and control of God’s Spirit. At once we feel that this would be mockery.

III. We now turn to gambling proper, in its more destructive and ensnaring forms. Its varied modes cannot here be described. Let us rather consider some of the fearful consequences of this sin.

1. It wastes money. The man indulging in gambling will hazard in it every cent he can get. No matter how often he loses, if he only occasionally wins, to encourage his continuance. He will borrow, or get money from any one, and under any pretence. If he be in business, he will encroach upon his capital. Thousands who have inherited a competency, and many of them a fortune, have lost all in a few years by gambling. A merchant has gone to one of our cities to purchase goods, he has been enticed by the professed gambler, and in a few hours has been stripped of every dollar, and turned into the streets almost a maniac.

2. Gambling is destructive of every good habit. It bids adieu to all the virtues. It stagnates the just and honourable affections of the soul. It quenches religious feeling. “Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to such.” The church, prayer, the Bible, Christ, religion in all its ennobling commands and blessed promises, are nothing to him who is the victim of this accursed vice. The dear wife, children, or parents, are ruthlessly sacrificed on the altar of this destructive demon. He is deaf to every plea of pity or mercy. His heart is consumed by this fire of play, until every noble impulse, and generous emotion, and conscientious dictate are burnt to ashes. Such is its end.

But its beginning is not so. Its front is a palace, splendid with the lineaments of architecture. A balmy air floats through each room. Sweet music echoes in the halls. Rich carpets yield like down under the tread. The walls are beautified with pictures. The new comer sees nothing to offend his modesty or refinement. But beyond this lies the room of wretchedness, in which the gambler ends his days. Look at that table, where paleness and dejection sit on the countenances of some; horrible perturbation is stamped on the brow of others; fearful blasphemies and oaths are heard on all sides; quarrels, curses, rightings, stabbings, cries of agony, the laugh of exultation, the grin of approaching idiocy, the jeers of the drunken courtesan, these present the midnight orgies of death and hell, and show us the mouth of the pit—“Lost! lost! Lost! the die is cast, and I am lost, lost! Lost!” once broke from a dying gambler’s lips. “I suffer the fires of hell already! You need not tell me there is no hell; I know there is; I feel it already; I have it in anticipation. Lost! lost! lost for ever!”

“In a public debate in Philadelphia, on the subject of gambling, between a well known reformed gambler, and an acknowledged member of that fraternity; the following points were admitted on all hands as established.

1. That the winner is always in danger of murder and runs for his life. 2. The loser generally becomes a cheat, a murderer, a suicide, or a drunkard. 3. The tortures of the damned are common to all gamblers, winners and losers. 4. Deception and lying are their common attributes. 5. Outlawed by public opinion, they wage implacable war against the morals, peace, and happiness of society.” In fact there is probably no one vice which makes a man more like the devils in hell, than does the vice of gambling. Four palaces Satan has built along the highway of this world, each of which leads to hell—the Theatre, the Dramshop, the Gambling House, and the Brothel, and he who frequents one generally frequents all.

Young man, if your eye falls on this, beware of the gambler. Have you never seen him? He is a well-dressed gentleman, rather profuse with jewelry. He is very friendly, indeed somewhat officious. He inquires about your business, and prospects in life. He seeks your confidence that he may steal your purse. He hints at easy ways of getting a living. “There is no need,” he says, “of a man making a slave of himself. The world owes every man a living.” With such specious words he is poisoning your mind. Avoid him. “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”

But in another way the young man is enticed. He enters a parlour. He has never played cards before. But here is a table covered with cards, and the wine-cup is at hand; and beauty and intelligence are shuffling and dealing the innocent toys, and invite him to take a hand. In vain he pleads ignorance of the game. They will teach him. He becomes a learner. He plays on for the excitement, and to enjoy the pleasures of society. But mark the progress. He soon wants to play elsewhere than where beauty and intelligence preside. And it is time to play for nothing, so a few nuts, a drink, a sixpence, a dollar is the stake. Thus is awakened the spirit of gambling. Thus is kindled the delicious but fatal excitement of winning money. Ah! what multitudes have had reason to curse the hour, when they were first invited to sit around such a table.[2]

And what is the plea urged by woman?—woman, who has so much to suffer from the gambler, whose home may be desolated, whose heart may be wrung with sorrow, whose brow may be wrinkled prematurely, by this fiend—what plea does woman present with all her potent influence and charms to lead the young into the bewildering excitements of gaming It is only, she says, a harmless amusement. Oh, that you knew, that under the specious name of amusement, you are laying the foundation of gambling Harmless amusement! Can that amusement be harmless, which so often leads to penury and vice? To call playing cards a harmless amusement, is deceptive. Playing cards for amusement is the inclined plane, which by gradual descent ends at the gambler’s table. The risk is so great, that no one who has a son or a brother to face the temptations of this life; or who desires that the young shall keep their way pure, should allow game of cards, or of hazards of any kind in his house.

Reader, must you confess that you do play, and sometimes for money? Stop at once. To-day burn your cards. Vow before God never to play again, and ask him to help you to keep your vow. This is your safety. Said a man to the writer, “I found myself gambling. I saw the ruin before me. I resolved to stop. Companions urged me to continue. But I burnt my cards, and have never played since. That saved me.” 


[1] Thompson’s Lectures to Young Men.

[2] Fisher’s Three Great Temptations.