Sermon – September 29, 2013 by the Rev. Michael Phillips, Interim Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, Saugerties, New York
Consider these two scenarios:
Number 1: Four men gather at the club house of a local golf course for their monthly outing. They have been playing together for years and always make a friendly wager. Each golfer puts $20 into the kitty and then at the end of the round they tally their scores, weighted for each player’s handicap, and distribute the money like this: out of the $80 total, the golfer with the best score gets $50, the second place golfer gets $20, the third place golfer gets $10, and the loser gets nothing.
Number 2: The four golfing buddies decide to take a Saturday and drive to a casino resort where they can try their luck. When they arrive, they find a parking spot in the huge lot and walk to the casino entrance past rows and rows of buses and cars. They enter the bright, lively, bustling main room of the casino and wonder where to start. Each one of the men decides to gamble with $20 and keep gambling until it’s gone. One guy starts by taking $10 and getting a roll of quarters for the slot machines. He goes through most of his quarters until he hits a jackpot and walks away with $50. He takes the $50 and moves to the black jack table where after a few games, wins again, this time $2,500. He takes his $2,500 to the roulette table and by the end of the night walks away with $50,000. His buddies were not so fortunate. One went home with $50, and the other two, after a lackluster evening of ups but mostly downs, lost everything.
What’s the difference between these two scenes? Both have winners and losers. Both involve making an initial investment with the hope of gaining more. However, they also have significant differences. For example, in the first scene, the winnings are modest, at the most $50. The second place golfer gets his ante back and the third place golfer gets half of his orginal investment back. Only the last place golfer loses everything. But also and more importantly, the winning is based upon the skill of the golfer. Even though they have handicapped the scoring, it turns out that the winner is the golfer who spent hours at the driving range and on the putting green, working on the details of his game. The loser is the guy who only plays a few times each summer and doesn’t really take the game that seriously. With his handicap he sometimes comes in third and once on a really good day he actually came in second. But for the most part, the dedication and commitment of the serious golfer pays off.
In the second scene, gambling, it’s a “no skills required” environment. Practicing pulling the lever of a slot machine does not increase or decrease your chances of winning. Winning big at gambling is a matter of pure, dumb, luck. The other difference is that one person won big, really big, $50,000 big, while most of the thousands of people who came to the casino that night walked away losers. But even though the one guy won $50,000, the truly big winner, consistently, every night, at every casino without question is “the House.” The House never loses. The House will share some of its profit with a few random individuals to keep people coming back, and when I say “people,” I mean, contributors to the House coffers. The House knows exactly how much to share to keep gambling appetites whetted, and how much to keep for itself. Casinos do not exist for the gambler. They exist for the House.
So let’s take a look at the proposed casino legislation in New York State from a faith perspective.