Gambling and Card-Playing


Men Playing PokerBy J. M. Judy

GAMBLING has become a moral plague of modern society. In one form or another it has entered the rank and file of every department of life—in private parlor over cards; in hotel drawing-room over election reports; in college athletic grounds over brains and brawn; in the counting-room over the price of stocks; in the racing tournament over jockeying and speed; in the Board of Trade hall over future prices of the necessaries of life; in the den of iniquity at dice; in the drinking saloon at the slot-machine; in the people’s fair at the wheel of fortune; in the gambling den itself at every conceivable form of swindling trick and game. Gambling has come to be almost an omnipresent evil. In treating this subject, it is our purpose to point out something of the nature of its evil, not only that we may be kept from it but that we may save others whom it threatens to destroy.

Gambling grows out of a misuse of the natural tendency to take risks. A social vice is some social right misused. Men have the social right to congregate to talk over measures of social and economic welfare. But if they discuss measures which oppose the principles of free Government, their meeting together becomes a crime against the State. A personal vice is some personal right misused. As some one has put it, “Vice is virtue gone mad.” It is a personal right and a personal virtue to be charitable, even beneficent. But since justice comes before mercy, if one uses for charity that which should be used in payment of debt, his virtue of beneficence becomes a vice of theft. So it is with gambling. It is giving the natural tendency to chance, to risk an illegitimate play. The person who is afraid to risk anything accomplishes but little in any way, is seldom a speculator, and never a gambler. Usually the gambler is the man who is naturally full of hazard, who loves to run risks, to take chances. Nor will one find a more practical and useful tendency in one’s make-up than this. See the discoverer of America and his brave crew for days and days sailing across an unknown sea toward an unknown land. But that was the price of a New World. Note the hazard and risk of our Pilgrim Fathers. But they gave to the world a new colonization. See the Second greatest American on his knees before Almighty God, promising him that he would free four million of slaves, providing General Lee should be driven back out of Maryland. General Lee was driven back, and that immortal though most hazardous of all documents, from man’s point of view, was read to his Cabinet and signed by Abraham Lincoln. All great men have taken great risks. Not a section of the United States has been settled without some risk. No business enterprise is launched without some risk. To secure an education, to learn a trade, to marry a wife, all involve some risk, much risk. The tendency to risk, to hazard, to chance it is a practical and useful tendency. Only let this tendency be governed always by wisdom and justice. No person ever became a gambler until consciously or unconsciously he forfeited wisdom and justice in his chances and risks.

Gambling takes a variety of forms. First of all is the professional gambler. He has no other business. His investment is a “pack of cards” and a box of “dice. See him with his long, slender fingers; with his shaggy, unkempt hair; with keen eyes, and a sordid countenance. He is prepared to “rake in” a thousand dollars a night, and would not hesitate to strip any man of his fortune. The professional is found at county fairs, on railway trains, in gilded dens, and at public resorts. Being a professional outlaw, and subject at any time to arrest and imprisonment, usually he has an accomplice. Sometimes a gang work together, so that it is with perfect ease they may relieve any unwary novice of his money. They know human nature on its low, mercenary side, and soon can find their man in a crowd. But few persons have started out in life having it for their aim to get something for nothing who, sooner or later, have not been “taken in” by this gang of swindlers. They know their kind. The end of the professional gambler is final loss and ruin. He will make $100, he will make $500, he will make $1,000, he will make $2,000; then he will lose all. Then he will borrow some money and start anew. And again he will make $200, he will make $600, he will make $1,200, and he will lose all. Like the winebibber and the professional murderer, the professional gambler has his den. Not a large city in the world is without these haunts of vice. Who is it that feeds and supports them? The novice at cards and dice, husbands and sons of respectable families, just as the occasional dram-taker supports the saloon. As one has asked:

“Could fools to keep their own contrive,
On whom, on what could gamesters thrive?”

The penny novice seeks the penny gambling den. The aristocratic speculator seeks the gilded gambling den. The expert trickster of large luck and large fortune makes his way to Monte Carlo, the gambling Mecca of the world. Monte Carlo is a famous resort situated in the northwest part of Italy. It is notorious for its gambling saloon. This city of nearly four thousand inhabitants is located in Monaco, the smallest independent country in the world. Monaco is about eight miles square, and lies on a “barren, rocky ridge between the sea and lofty, almost inaccessible rocks.” The soil is barren, except in small tracts which are used for fruit-gardens. For centuries the inhabitants, the Monagasques, lived by marauding expeditions, both by sea and land, and by slight commerce with Genoa, Marseilles, and Nice. But in the last century the people have converted their country and city into a world-wide resort. In 1860, M. Blanc, a famous gambler and saloon proprietor of two German cities, went to Monaco, and for an immense sum of money received sole privilege to convert their province into a gambler’s paradise. Soon immense marble buildings arose in the midst of such beauty as to make it a modern rival of the gardens of ancient Babylon. Costly statues, gorgeous vases, graceful fountains, elegant basins, and beautiful terraces, all of which are made alluring by blooming plants, by light illuminations, and by free concerts of music day and night,—these are the attractions in this gambler’s paradise. Here fortunes are won and lost in a night. For, as has been sung,

“Dice will run the contrary way,
As well is known to all who play,
And cards will conspire as in treason.”

Then we have the speculator in commerce. He is the denizen of the Board of Trade hall. He speculates on the prices of next week’s, of next month’s meat and breadstuffs. And still this sort of gambler may be a book-keeper in a bank, a farm hand, or a clerk in a grocery store. It ha become so simple and so common a practice for persons to speculate on the markets that any person with ten dollars, or twenty-five dollars, or a hundred dollars may take his chances. Tens of thousands of dollars to-day are being swept into this silent whirlpool, the gambler’s commerce.

Also we have the pool gambler. He is actuated by love of excitement. He is found at the race course, at the baseball diamond, and at all sorts of contests, where he may find opportunity to be on the outcome. It is a common thing for young men to steal their employers’ money, for young girls to take their hard-earned wages to stake on games and races. Recently $175,000 were paid for the exclusive gambling right for one year at the Washington Park races in Chicago.

Last of all, we have the society gambler. He is growing numerous to-day. He is the same person, whether clad in full dress in the drawing-room of the worldling, or in common dress around the fireside of the unchristian Church member. Like the professional gambler his instrument is “cards,” and he can shake the “dice.” His games are whist, progressive euchre, and sometimes poker. The stakes now are not money, but the gratification of excitement and the indulgence of passion. One, two, four hours go by almost unnoticed. Prizes are offered for the best player. As a Catholic priest told me after he had won a small sum with cards. Said he: “We just put up a few dollars, you know, to lend devotions to the game.” So prizes are offered in the social gambling “to lend devotions to the game.” It is under such circumstances as these that young men and young women receive their first lessons in card-playing. A passion for card-playing is called forth, developed, and must be satisfied, even though it takes one in low places among vile associates. “A Christian gentleman came from England to this country. He brought with him $70,000 in money. He proposed to invest the money. Part of it was his own; part of it was his mother’s. He went into a Christian Church; was coldly received, and said to himself: ‘Well, if that is the kind of Christian people they have in America, I don’t want to associate with them much.’ So he joined a card-playing party. He went with them from time to time. He went a little further on, and after a while he was in games of chance, and lost all of the $70,000. Worse than that, he lost all of his good morals; and on the night that he blew his brains out he wrote to the lady to whom he was affianced an apology for the crime he was about to commit, and saying in so many words, ‘My first step to ruin was the joining of that card party.'”

In all of its forms gambling is loaded down with evil. In the first place it destroys the incentive to honest work. Let the average young man win a hundred dollars at the races, it will so turn his head against slow and honorable ways of getting money that he will watch for every opportunity to get it easily and abundantly. The young girl who risks fifty cents and gets back fifty dollars will no longer be of service as a quiet, contented worker. The spirit of speculation, the passion to get something for nothing, is calculated to destroy the incentive to honest toil and to honorable methods of gain. As one values his character, as he values his peace of mind, so should he zealously guard himself against overfascinating games of chance. Once we had a family in our Church who played cards, and who taught their children to play cards. Of course these families had no time for prayer-meeting, nor for Christian work. Card-playing for amusement or for money will create a passion that must be satisfied, although one must give up home and business and pleasure. In a town where we once lived a young man and his wife attended our Church. In every way the husband was kind, and attentive to business. But he had fallen a victim to playing cards for money. When that passion would seize him he would leave his business, his hired help, his home and wife and little one, and would lose himself for days at a time seeking to satisfy that passion. An enviable husband, father, citizen, and neighbor but for that evil; but how wretchedly that ruined all! Dr. Holland, of Springfield, Massachusetts, says: “I have all my days had a card-playing community open to my observation, and yet I am unable to believe that that which is the universal resort of starved soul and intellect, which has never in any way linked to itself tender, elevating, or beautiful associations, but, the tendency of which is to unduly absorb the attention from more weighty matters, can recommend itself to the favor of Christ’s disciples. I have this moment,” says he, “ringing in my ears the dying injunction of my father’s early friend: ‘Keep your son from cards. Over them I have murdered time and lost heaven.'”

Gambling is dishonest. It seeks something for nothing. Man possesses no money, that he might risk giving it to some rogue to waste in sin. All the property one possesses, he possesses it by stewardship to be used wisely and honestly for good. Every age has needed a revival of the Golden Rule in business. Much of the business of to-day is attended to on the dishonest principle that characterizes gambling, “Get as much as possible for as little as possible.” This spirit is first cousin to the spirit of gambling. The only difference is, one is called wrong and is wrong; the other is wrong and is called right. Tell the gambler he is a thief; he will acknowledge it, and will beat you, if he can, while he is talking to you. Tell the other man he is a thief, and he will sue you at court and win his case, although it is just as wrong to steal $100 from an unbalanced mind, as it is to steal $100 from an unlocked safe or off of an untrained football team. It will be an easy matter to produce professional gamblers so long as society upholds dishonest dealers by another name. What men need in this matter is moral and spiritual vision, spiritual discernment. Some persons live by taking advantage of those who are down.

In all of its forms gambling leads to a long train of crimes. In addition to his crime of theft the professional gambler, through passion or drink, becomes a murderer. I knew a professional gambler who killed a man, with whom he had been playing cards for money, for fifty cents. After it was all over the man was sorry he had done it, for he had committed the crime in a passion while he was intoxicated. The one who speculates on the markets is not counted dishonest by the world, but how often and how quickly it leads one into crime! In our neighboring town in Illinois a man of a good family and of good standing in the community began to speculate on the Chicago Board of Trade. He was as honest a person, perhaps, as you or I. He thought he was. For years he had been a trusted, Christian worker, and treasurer of the Sunday-school. But he made just one venture too many. He had lost all; could not even replace the Sunday-school fund that he had simply used, no doubt expecting to replace it with usury; but the loss and disgrace were too much for him to face, so he deserted home and friends and honor and all, and secretly ran away. The speculating gambler became a deserting embezzler. The person who has acquired a passion for betting on races and games is on a fair way to professional gambling and to speculating on the markets. And rarely does one ever escape these, if once he gets a start in them.

The evil of society gambling is most dangerous of all, because it is most subtle of all. Ah first no one would suspect an innocent game of cards, played just for fun. You may be the fourth one to make up a game; you may not know how to play, but you are told you can quickly learn. You brave it, and go in for a game. The next time a similar circumstance arises, you can not easily decline, for you must confess you have played, and so you go in as an old player. This may be as far as the matter ever goes with you. But here is one who is more impulsive than you; his surroundings are entirely different. He learns to play, and comes to revel in it. A passion is created for the game. He is shrewd; soon learns the tricks, and one evening—purely by chance, as it seems to him—he wins his first five dollars. Strange possibilities with cards lay hold upon him. He is consumed by that passion. He plays for business, for keeps; he has become a professional gambler. Ah! this is no finespun tale; it is being worked out every year in our country, all over the world. Among many things for which I have to thank my father and mother not the least is, that they would allow no gamblers, nor gambling, nor the instruments of gambling about our home. Better keep a pet rattlesnake for your child than a deck of cards; for if he gets poisoned by the snake he may be cured; but if the passion for card-playing should happen to seize him, there is little chance of a cure. The inmates of our penitentiaries to-day, almost to a man, testify that “card-playing threw them into bad company, led them into sin, and was one of the causes of their downfall.” Dr. Talmage was asked if there could be any harm in a pack of cards. He Said: “Instead of directly answering your question, I will give you as My opinion that there are thousands of men with as strong a brain as you have, who have gone through card-playing into games of chance, and have dropped down into the gambler’s life and into the gambler’s hell.” A prisoner in a jail in Michigan wrote a letter to a temperance paper, in which he gives this advice for young men: “Let cards and liquor alone, and you will never be behind the gates.” Friends, not every one who touches liquor is a drunkard, but every drunkard touches liquor; so not every one who plays cards is a professional gambler, but every professional gambler plays cards. Is there nothing significant about these facts. “A word to the wise is sufficient.” “In a railway train sat four men playing cards. One was a judge, and two of the others were lawyers. Near them sat a poor mother, a widow in black. The sight of the men at their game made her nervous. She kept quiet as long as she could; but finally rising came to them, and addressing the judge, asked: ‘Do you know me?’ ‘No, madam, I do not,’ said he. ‘Well, said the mother, ‘you sentenced my son to State’s prison for life.’ Turning to one of the lawyers, she said: ‘And you, sir, pleaded against him. He was all I had. He worked hard on the farm, was a good boy, and took care of me until he began to play cards, when he took to gambling and was lost.'” Dr. Guthrie writes: “In regard to the lawfulness of certain pursuits, pleasures, and amusements, it is impossible to lay down any fixed and general rule; but we may confidently say that whatever is found to unfit you for religious duties, or to interfere with the performance of them; whatever dissipates your mind or cools the fervor of your devotions; whatever indisposes you to read your Bibles or to engage in prayer, wherever the thought of a bleeding Savior, or of a holy God, or of the day of judgment falls like a cold shadow on your enjoyment, the pleasures you can not thank God for, on which you can not ask His blessing, whose recollections will haunt a dying bed and plant sharp thorns in its uneasy pillow,—these are not for you..Never go where you can not ask God to go with you; never be found where you would not like death to find you. Never indulge in any pleasure that will not bear the morning’s reflection. Keep yourselves unspotted from the world, not from its spots only, but even from its suspicions.”


This is taken from Questionable Amusements and Worthy Substitutes.

Of related interest:

The Benedictine Sisters of Chicago website has a brief article on the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment.