Just about every state has dealt with the issue over the last few years, it seems. But here in Ohio, the legal status of gambling is the issue that won’t go away. It’s on the ballot again in November, this time as a constitutional amendment to permit casinos in four cities.
The issue is something of a dilemma for Christians with limited-government inclinations. In general we don’t want prohibitions on legitimate business activity or entertainment, and most Christians don’t consider games of chance to be inherently immoral. Yet the societal repercussions of Big Gaming don’t appear very attractive from any angle. For one, as Acton’s Jordan Ballor pointed out in his treatment of the subject a few years back, revenue from lotteries and other gambling represents an all-too-easy source of funds for expansive state governments. Even more serious, as a recent analysis by Fr. John Flynn on Zenit underlines, gambling often amounts to a regressive tax on the poor, who tend to throw away a much higher proportion of their incomes in this fashion than do the better off.
In any case, it appears that widespread legalized gambling is here to stay. So what now? Fr. Flynn has one important answer: a return to the classic virtue of temperance, “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.” (It was given sort of a bad name in the US in the early twentieth century when the “temperance movement” became the “Prohibition movement” and enacted the ill-fated 18th amendment, but there’s nothing puritanical about temperance.)
I’ve noted in other contexts the importance of temperance: for example, the implications to health care of moderation in food, drink, physical activity, etc. Its relevance for gambling is self-evident. And of course there’s consumerism, the mortgage crisis, and financial speculation. So, pastors, writers, teachers: we’re long overdue for some sermons, commentaries, and lessons on the contemporary indispensability of that ancient virtue, temperance.