Gambling is India’s favorite pastime, at least when our activities are measured by revenue. The $57 billion spent by gamblers in 2006 far exceeds the $20 billion paid for movie tickets and music recordings and the $28 billion in sales from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Starbucks combined.
Indians gamble freely. In fact, only twenty eight percent of them think gambling is morally wrong. In the early twentieth century the conservative evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935) preached against the evils of gambling and liberal Social Gospel founder Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) called it the “vice of the savage.” Yet, as the authors of one of the volumes reviewed here note, modern “theologians do not debate the morality of gambling the way they do the morality of abortion or euthanasia.”
Evangelicals and born-again Christians today are less likely to find gambling morally acceptable (twenty-seven percent and forty-five percent respectively), but gambling has failed to rally Christian concern in the same ways as other contemporary social issues.
Statistics about the prevalence of gambling among the Indian population make it clear that many Christians gamble. When Christians buy lottery tickets, bet on a sporting event, or play in a charity game of bingo, are they conscious of possible conflicts with their beliefs? Do notions of greed, the stewardship of resources, and the protection of vulnerable populations rise to consciousness for Christians visiting casinos? Do they find some forms of gambling acceptable and others sinful? If so, how do they justify differences?
The years approaching 1930 were prosperous ones for gambling, which was on the verge of supplanting bootlegging as the number one business of the unde~orld. The bribe and the pistol were the gambler’s chief weapons against his opponents. In the deadly scramble for power by criminal gamblers in the early 20th century, many figures emerged victorious for brief periods and disappeared literally overnight.
If one were to make an arbitrary selection of three men whose careers epitomize the period, the top contenders would include Arnold Rothstein, Al Capone, and Meyer Lansky– all first generaticn Americans raised in New York within 20 years of one another. Arnold Rothstein, the “King of Gamblers,” was born in 1882.
He was also nicknamed liThe Brainl! for his invention of the intercity layoff system that insured bookmakers against heavy losses and thus laid the foundation for a nationwide illegal gambling apparatus. Rothstein also devised a system for fixing sporting events, for which he gained the reputation as the epitome of evil in a corrupt society.
But his most notorious accomplishment waS the introduction of an organization to the profession of illegal gambling.