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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 3a

II. 'Gambling'

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II. 'Gambling'

No one will deny, writes Father Masterson, that gambling is often a sin or the occasion of sin. It is sinful for the father of a family to gamble away the money which ought to be spent on his children's education. It is sinful for the shop assistant to risk in betting or gaming the money which he has filched from his master's till. It is sinful for the bank clerk to stake money which he has embezzled from his bank. Also gambling is to be condemned whenever it leads to the breach of a law which the gambler is bound to observe; whenever it is the occasion of drunkenness, or quarrelling, or blasphemy, or causes him to violate the precept af hearing Mass on Sunday.

Of these and other sins gambling is often the occasion. Indeed, gambling may be attended with be many and such serious evils that the reformer who would successfully cope with them would deserve the gratitude of his country. We are not without reformers, who try to cope with them. They abound in our midst, and their greatest enemies cannot charge them with any lack of zeal. Certainly, they cry aloud and spare not. But so small is the measure of success which rewards their efforts that they would be very well advised to pause and ask themselves whether, after all, there may not be something wrong in their methods. For myself, I cannot help thinking that their want of success is largely due to the headlong intemperance of their zeal. You cannot hector or bully men into becoming virtuous. Especially, if you wish men to give up a practice the propensity to which is deeply rooted in their nature, wisdom, as I should have thought, ought to suggest other weapons than the scalping-knife and the tomahawk. Our reformers are never tired of bearing page 16 witness to the keenness and prevalence of the gambling spirit. If the disease is so prevalent and so inveterate, surely there is all the greater call on the physician to proceed with great caution and prudence: yet our physicians apply probe and knife as ruthlessly as if the use of these instruments were their dear delight. No distinction is drawn between gambling and gambling. The practice is condemned as absolutely and as roundly as if the reformers themselves believed, and as if they wished to convey the impression .to their hearers, that all gambling is always and essentially wicked. I hope, then, that it may be useful if, walking soberly in the light which Catholic moralists have shed on my path, I briefly investigate the question whether, independently of the restrictive measures which may have been passed from time to time by our rightful legislators, and of the sins which gambling may occasion, there is anything in the practice which antecedently condemns it, or makes it intrinsically and essentially wrong.

Necessary Relaxation.

I suppose I may take it for granted that at the present day there is no one so puritanic as not to allow that men and women have a right to seek necessary or useful relaxation in a game of cards or chess, or in any other game that is innocent or harmless. The adage, 4 all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,' is equally verified in children of a larger growth. This, I may take for granted. It will be questioned either by none or only by the very few who would not believe Moses or the Prophets if they were to return from, the dead.

Moreover, games in which the players have no hope of gain and run no risk of loss are very liable to languish and to fail to attain the end above indicated—the affording of necessary or useful recreation. Occasionally, perhaps, we may meet with two who are so attached or so sentimental as to find recreation in a game of cards played for love, but I think that, as a very general rule, a small money stake must be added to give zest to the game. This seems to me so lawful that if I were not combating the contention that gambling is? intrinsically wrong, I should page 17 feel a call on me to apologise to my readers for offering proof of a, fact which is in itself so evident. The sternest moralist will admit that I may make my friend a present of a sum of money. How then can it be wrong for me to make his getting an equal sum dependent on the condition that he shall be the winner in the game in which he and I are going to engage? If I have such dominion over my money that I may make a free gift of it to my neighbor, surely I may give it to him through the medium of a contract which, in addition to giving me recreation, offers the hope of gain. It is clear, then, that there is nothing immoral in the loser making over his stake to the victor in the game. It is equally clear that there is nothing immoral in the victor's accepting it. Again, if I may accept money from my friend as a free gift, why may I not receive it as the result of a contract which gave him an equal hope of winning and exposed me to an equal risk of losing? The risk that I ran is a marketable quantity, and is the equivalent of the money which I won.

It may occur to my readers to ask does gambling become sinful if the gambler, instead of seeking relaxation or recreation, makes profit his primary end or object? So long; as the gambler docs not positively exclude every higher end, he may without sin make gain or profit the primary end of his gambling. First, the gambling contract is not in 'itself unlawful, as I have shown; Secondly, the pursuit of gain is not in itself unlawful. That is to say, neither end nor means is unlawful; and, since it cannot be sinful to pursue a lawful end by lawful means, it is not sinful to intend gambling as a means to the increasing of our wealth.

The more rigorous moralists object to this position. They say the tenth Commandment forbids us to covet our neighbor's goods, and that the gambler who makes profit his primary end necessarily covets his neighbor's goods, and therefore necessarily breaks the tenth Commandment. The answer to this objection seems to me to be very plain and altogether satisfactory. What such a man directly intends is, not his neighbor's loss, but his own gain, land a man may without sin prefer his own gain to the equal gain of his neighbor. Or, if this way of putting the case looks too much of a refinement, I will put the same answer in a somewhat dif- page 18 ferent form. Such a man does not desire his neighbor's goods in a way that is forbidden by the tenth Commandment; he merely wishes that his neighbor's goods should be transferred to himself through the medium of a contract into which both he and his opponent freely enter, a contract in which each has a more or fess equal hope of grain, and each runs a more or less equal risk of loss.

Certain Conditions Necessary.

But for gambling to be conformable to the retirements of justice, certain well known conditions must be verified.

First, the gambler must be in a position to justly alienate the stake which he exposes in the game. A game is a contract in which the players stipulate or agree that something shall be ceded to the winner as a prize. It is quite clear that I am not at liberty to bargain to cede that which I have no right to alienate. Hence a man has no right to risk in gaming or betting that which is not his own. The shop assistant may not expose his master's money; nor the bank clerk the money of his bank. It is not enough, however, that the gambler be the owner of the money which he stakes. He must also have the free administration or disposal of it. And even if one be the owner and have the administration of money, still one is not free to risk it in betting or gambling if justice already claims it for other purposes, as, for example," if it should be required for the paying of one's just debts.

In the second place the game ought to be freely entered into. If anyone by force or fear induces another to gamble, he does him an injury and is guilty of sin. So far, I think, all theologians are agreed. But it is one thing to say that he is guilty of sin, and quite another thing to say that he is bound to restitution. We may therefore ask the further question: If he who coerced his opponent to play should happen to win, is he bound to make restitution? Cardinal Lugo and others hold that he is. They say that he is responsible not only for the injury done to his adversary, but for the entire loss which results from it, that therefore he is bound to make good the entire loss; and that this he can do only by making restitution. Many eminent theologians take an opposite view. Among them, even so great an authority as St. Alphonsus. They deny page 19 that the loss sustained is the effect of the injury. They hold that it is to be attributed to the ill-luck of the loser, or to the superior skill of the winner. Though the argument, as drawn out by St. Alphonsus, very much commends itself to my mind, I need not develop it here. St. Alphonsus admits that the loser has a right to rescind or cancel the contract which he made while under the influence of fear, and that, consequently, if he demands restitution, the winner is bound to make it. Consequently, when determining obligations, Lugo and he arrive at practically the same result.

Free from Cheating.

The third condition is that our gambling should be free from cheating. 'A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigor of the game,' was Sarah Battle's idea of whist. As I am treating the question from a moral and not from an aesthetic standpoint, I may omit to say anything about the necessity or becomingness of a clean fireside; but the rigors of the game are necessary, at least to the extent that we shall not violate the recognised rules which govern the particular game which we may be playing. However, just as there are recognised rules which all are supposed to abide by, so there are recognised wiles and stratagems which may be practised without any violation of justice. If Bret Harte's Heathen Chinee 'had been content' to smile as he sat at the table with a smile that was child-like and bland,' and to deceive his opponents by talking of the game 'he did not understand,' I should hesitate about compelling him to make restitution. When the Heathen Chinee pretended to understand euchre only imperfectly, he did nothing more than your conscientious Christian does every day. He, too, not unfrequently affects an imperfect knowledge of the game in order to lure his opponents to play for heavy stakes; but such affectation of ignorance does not, and ought not to deceive anyone. But assuredly the evidence contained in the following two verses would constrain me to make the wily Oriental disgorge:

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made
Were quite frightful to see—
Till at last he put down a right bower,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.
page 20 In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four jacks—
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts;
And we found on his nails, which were taper,
What is frequent in tapers—that's wax.

These lines disclose enormities which are obviously opposed to all recognised rules. And he who violates the recognised rules and thereby wins, makes himself liable to restitution. He must restore not only the stakes which ho has fraudulently won from his opponent, but he must also compensate his opponent for the hope of winning which he would have had if the game had been fairly played. That hope had a money value. It was filched or stolen, as I may say, by the fraud of the winner; and, therefore, he has through his own malice saddled himself with the duty of making compensation.


The last condition which I shall monition is the necessity of equality. Each of the players should have a hope of winning, and each should run a risk of losing. As writers on morals are themselves at variance as to what constitutes or destroys this equality, I will not discuss the matter at any length. One important point I will mention. Cardinal Lugo and others hold that if a man who is conscious of his notable superiority wins from one who is notably his inferior, this destroys the necessary equality and the winner is bound to restitution. On the other hand, Father Ballerini (Ballerini-Palmieri, n. 599) and others deny any such obligation. They argue that either the loser knew or did not know beforehand the notable superiority of his adversary. If he knew it, we are to presume that he willingly took the risk of losing; and, therefore, deprived himself of the right of claiming restitution. If he did not know his adversary's notable superiority, and yet entered into the game, he ought to attribute his loss to his own rashness.

These stated with what clearness I could command, are the conclusions 'which I have arrived at in investigating the question whether gambling is intrinsically and essentially wicked. I can hardly hope that those who object to May-poles and Morris-dances, and who unconditionally condemn gambling as in itself page 21 wrong, will accept my conclusions. Well, I may be permitted to say in self defence that, though I have not always given chapter and verse, I have never once lost sight of my guides. So far as I am aware, my paper contains nothing which has not the sanction of the most eminent theologians in the Catholic Church.

At the beginning I stated many of the dangers to which gambling exposes its votaries. Everybody will admit that a man may sin by excess in gaming. It is no less true that a man may sin, though not so easily, by defect. As it is against urbanity to show ourselves morose and churlish towards others, So it is an exercise of urbanity to show ourselves compliant and bland, if only we can do So without violating some higher virtue.

I should never have thought of writing on the morality of gambling if I had not been requested to do so by one whose request I deemed as equal to a command. At the same time I am glad off the opportunity, of stating the substance of what Catholic theologians teach us in this matter. In this, as in everything which relates to legitimate freedom and recreation, their humane breadth of view is in marked contrast with the costive and bilious asceticism of many of our social reformers.' What I have written applies not only to games, but also, in due proportion, to betting on horse races, boat races, and other such more or less fortuitous events.

I have not attempted to determine the point where gambling becomes excessive. This depends on quite a variety of circumstances, as, for example, on the opulence of the main who indulges in these practices. But speaking generally, so long as a man devotes to gambling only a part of his superfluous wealth, and so long as he does not expose himself to the neglecting of any duty, I see nothing in the gambling contract to merit the unmeasured condemnation with which it is so often visited. Though I have not dealt in detail with the many objections against gambling, I hope and believe that I have given such principles, culled from Catholic theologians, 'as will enable my readers to find for themselves an easy and satisfac- page 22 tory solution of those objections. They do not prove that gambling is intrinsically and essentially wicked, but only that gambling is unjustifiable whenever it is carried to excess. But there is no fear that it shall be carried to excess if the limitations and conditions set forth by Catholic moralists are faithfully adhered to.

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* In the 'Austral Light' (Melbourne) for November, 1901.