Marx and the Church on Gambling

Karl Marx was not a nationalist nor a spiritual person like that of Georg Hegel, who found the Lutheran faith to be the highest form of religion in a man’s life. If one were to look beyond the exile of the Catholic church, during the early stages of the French Revolution, historical analysis would show a vibrant relationship between religion and nationalism. Marx, unlike Hegel, saw religion as a seductive force; it was an element that, as other Marxist scholars have noted, served as another means of exploiting the means of the masses. As noted in his Opium of the People:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Marx’s thesis of class consciousness and class conflict continues to be relevant today. Though Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism addressed the political shift of the left in relation to societal constructs, Marxism continues to be a significant school of thought in a world divided by class, race, gender, and national interest. Academic disciplines continue to focus on conflicts within society as they seek to explain economic interest in a pluralistic society. And yes, I do believe pluralism is a highly ubiquitous ideology that shapes the social and cultural make-up of the American polity.

But, if Marx had his doubts about the seductive force of religion, on the masses, he would contend that exploitation of any type is exploitation. Not only did Marx see forces of economic interest as being dangerous, the church (Catholic and Protestant) also voiced its concerns about agents that exploit. In a recent class discussion on capitalism, I told my macroeconomics class that Marx would be opposed to both a state lottery system, and casinos. As a self-professed leftist, I too do not favor the lottery or casinos. Here is the problem: politicians support legalizing casino gambling and the lottery because they are influenced by special interest. Many claim it will generate revenue for the state and create jobs; in truth, both exploit the poor, lead to more crime, and increase unemployment. The lottery is an indirect tax. I realize that it is a tax one does not have to pay, but if you are low on the socioeconomic scale, it is easy to be seduced by the possibility of cashing in quick for greater earnings.

In addition, education plays a major role in this matter. If you are poor and have a limited education, the seductive forces of the opium of gambling, will be hard to reject. A man works hard all week to earn a pay check, yet that check is not enough to make ends meet. Thus, he seeks to “earn” additional wages by handing that check over to a casino with the hope of getting rich. Casinos represents the bourgeoisie’s efforts at exploiting the poor. Once that hardworking man surrenders that check, he is granted a credit card to buy alcohol, rent a room, have dinner, and gamble with money he does not have. In the end, he leaves the casino in debt.

This is not an unusual predicament of classic exploitation. Spend time in a poor black inner-city neighborhood. You will see pawn shops, liquor stores, and porn shops. All of which are owned by the same class of people who own casinos and lobby politicians to legislate a state lottery. Their justification: lottery dollars will be used to improve the education of blacks in the inner-city. Special interests always look to states like Georgia and Mississippi as a reason for why it works. I am not convinced. The church is not convinced, as noted by John McArthur, who outlines the sins of gambling here. My two favorite points are 1.) it preys on the weak and 2.) it is part of the sin of materialism. Marx would draw this exact conclusion, too.

I do not think this is an ideological matter; I was a bit shocked that many of my students disagreed with me. They argued that it is a choice. In a society that is made up of freedoms and economic expansion, people have the right to enhance their earnings…be it the casino owner or the uninformed poor person looking to improve his lifestyle. They have the right to hold such a position. It is not my job to change  students’ minds; however, it is my job to present the historical evidence that proves otherwise.


15 thoughts on “Marx and the Church on Gambling

  1. I think that I would want to chase down the idea of “choice” in this class conversation. SO often, we who are settled and safe pass judgment on what we see as others’ poor choices, without realizing that a lack of education, opportunity, or option leads people to genuinely believe that they HAVE no choices, and leads them to behave in ways that further limit the choices that are available. I think of my own biological family, made up of a nearly unbroken line of poorly-educated manual laborers. “That’s how my parents did it, so it’s good enough for me” thinking leads people to believe that they’re somehow genetically predetermined to be a certain way (whether the ‘genetics’ in question are biological or social). It takes a dramatic shift in thinking – and a willingness to break from the expected norms – to do anything different. I was the first in my family to graduate college and work in a job that required my brain more than my hands, and I remember getting a LOT of grief over it; I was shunned for being “better” or for being perceived as being holier than thou (in my family, it was all about the “high horse,” whatever the hell that meant).

    What I’m saying here is that until we can fully appreciate that conditions – and upbringings and attitudes and a host of other factors – CAN serve to limit the choices that people believe they have, we can’t just glibly say that people can just choose to live a different life. In almost every case, it’s never that easy.

  2. Chili — You hit the central point well. It is east to observe the concept of choice from afar, but when one is not in a position to feel such an impact, people simply brush off logical arguments under the assumption that it is your call. No one is making you pull the trigger.

    I am curious as to if your logic of thinking conflicts with those that do not have your education beyond being shunned? I have experienced this too. It is difficult. My students who argue choice are too young and blessed to understand economic choices. I realize this is a gross generalization, but it is the only conclusion I can make. I am not going to let this choice conversation slip away too easily.

    • Eddie, I disagree with you. I know you are going to get upset when I say this, but it IS a choice. It is no different than allowing the sell of alcohol, tobacco or high fat fast food. It is not the job of the state to dictate good choices, neither is it their role to “remove” the temptation. It seems as though it is a slippery slope to suggest the government should become the moral police. Lotteries and casinos are very costly- especially for the lower class. Yet, there are so many vices in our lives today. At some point the individual must be their own keeper. In a parallel argument, look at the numbers of the over weight and obese. The numbers are grossly over represented by the lower classes. And yet, the cheapest food available is often high in fat in empty in caloric value. Should the government outlaw McDonalds? Ultimately whether we like or not, people in our society are allowed to make choices. As a society we can and should bring to light the problems and offer suggestions to rectify the problems. But, the answer is not to take away the options from society.. as always , the answer is better education.

      • …but Oliver, there is a difference in what you are saying. I come from a community in which I have seen people cave to casinos; it is a matter of education. Not all people can make certain choices. This is why the government regulates how we live; it is why we have consumer watch dogs. The average person is not informed enough to make daily choices about all things.

  3. Casinos and lotteries are there to make money, not to provide a rational or fair chance for consumers to take their money. Communities warn against gambling for the same reason the Enterprise drops warning beacons around black holes.

    When one state creates a lottery, the neighboring states feel compelled to create their own singularity to keep their citizens’ dollars for themselves. These states will outlaw gambling by private ownership (aside from Indian casinos), but rationalize their entry into gambling by blaming the neighboring state and claiming their lottery will be an efficiently run operation to generate funds for education. As Carson noted, it is indeed an indirect tax. Notice that these states do not cut taxes once they are getting revenue from a lottery. Not only does everyone who actually paid taxes pay the same level of taxes, but now people who don’t pay taxes fund the lottery. Well played, sirs. Well played.

    Found this great little article by a guy named Russ Roberts.

    Yes, people have a choice to participate in a lottery. However, does it mean anything that a state government would knowingly run a high-risk game that would invariably prey on the less wealthy?

    As for the educational benefit… Mississippi and Vermont have state lotteries; Mississippi is near the bottom of the state education rankings, and Vermont is at or near the top. The “It’s for the kids!”argument is just a fig leaf hiding the fact that 38 states are running lotteries to keep the money in their state rather than another state.

  4. Hmmm…obviously my HTML tags are rusty in that last post…LOL. Is the ending tag supposed to have a “/” in it or something? I tried to strike one thing and put italics on another, and I blew the whole thing to pieces. Sorry folks.

    • I will see if I can fix it. So, Matt S, we actually agree on something. Wow! I suspect the matter of Mississippi being at the bottom is in justification. Texas argues that the revenue benefits education. There evidence is that Texas is a national leader here. But, that is not why. It is a matter of high property taxes in areas that have seen public education do well; however, if one looked to the more urban areas with a low tax base, the evidence illustrates something else.

  5. Eddie,

    As a Christian, I think that lotteries/casinos are abominable because they prey on the “least of these” who we are supposed to be most concerned about and protect.

    This is actually a major problem I have with Democrats—for supposedly being the party of the poor and underprivileged, I’ve always found it highly ironic (and disappointing) that it’s the socially conservative who are most opposed to state lotteries. You would think that those who are most concerned for the poor wouldn’t be the ones to support programs that target and victimize them…

    Of course, to be fair, you can make similar claims about Republicans. For the party that’s supposed to support and champion the unborn infant, I’ve always found it interesting (and disappointing) that when push comes to shove, in Republican circles Pro-Life issues are always trumped by other issues like lowering taxes or an aggressive foreign policy.

    On a humorous (though sad) side note, I recently saw the following sign on a gas station marquee on the town where I live:
    That pretty much sums it up I think.

    • LukeD,
      I will never forget that picture you posted on your blog about welfare stamps and I think it was “for a lottery ticket.” I could be wrong, but I know I am close. I do not see this as a party (Democrats) issue. Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas are heavy Republican states that are most noted for the lottery system. But, Dems exploit too. I will admit that.

  6. Lottery/Food Stamp sign = lol. Good mention, Luke.

    (A) A state creates a lottery system, and no private competition is allowed. The system tends to extract money from the working class and poor, even though any person can simply refuse to participate.

    (B) A government creates a universal health care system, where no private competition can survive. The system extracts money from the top tier of taxpayers, even though though no person can refuse to participate.

    The consistent position might be against both, as (1) each preys on an individual’s money, one poor and the other rich; (2) government runs nothing efficiently, be it a lottery or a post office; and (3) market competition drives down prices and increases the quality of the product.

    At least with health care the government’s heart is in the right place. When it tries to manage our gambling, it’s looking at the coffers. Government can Regulate or outright Restrict a market, but trying to Run that market gets it into trouble.

    • Your (B) point is not the same, Matt S. We are talking about those who do not have because they simply cannot afford. Thus, it is important to get the support needed from those that do. There is no exploitation here.

      • The rich cannot be exploited because they are rich?

        1. If everyone is forced to play the game…
        2. …and half of the people pay for a ticket, and half do not…
        3. …and everyone wins the same prize…

        …then the ticket buyers are being exploited. Their property is being taken and handed to someone else. What thanks do they get? A demand that they purchase more tickets.

        The rich are not voting that the poor must buy lottery tickets to fund education, but the poor are voting for the rich to pay for everything—claiming need trumps all individual rights.

  7. Matt S,

    The rich wills power. They are institutional in making decisions. They have resources to assure they maintain their wealth and power. The most powerful person in America is a White, Protestant, heterosexual with income and spending power to maintain his status. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans have members of this empowered group. I agree with Carson. The wealthy such as casino owners and others with wealth are in a position to exploit if they so desire. Theo only body that can check the power of the wealthy is that of the government. Sad to say, though, many of them control the wealth index.

    • “Can Darth Vader be exploited? Doesn’t an evil Sith Lord deserve anything he gets?”

      Is this the liberal captioning under my question on the rich being exploited?

      The rich are often held up as boogeymen, but a great many of the wealthy have reached that status by hard work and talent. They are an extremely productive part of our society. They invent things. They build things. They move things. They sell things. They figure out how to do things better and cheaper than ever before. They create companies. They hire people. Most of them started out at the bottom and worked their way up. Are we willing to throw that baby out with the bath water when we raid the wealthy?

      The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are meant to check government, not give it more power. Government is not a benign entity. Governments are also made up of wealthy people with their own agendas, be they capitalistic or socialistic. You are just picking a different type of poison, as there will always be power brokers. Give me the ones that have a track record of doing something successful that makes a profit (Hint: they are rarely politicians). Thank goodness we have enough folks with wealth and power to check the government, I say. They can keep each other honest, I hope.

      In that link I posted earlier, the article suggests you would rather play a lottery run by a rich private casino owner than one run by the state. You’d have better odds and a better prize.

  8. I read that article; it was good. The state would never operate a casino. But, the state might — no, it does, regulate social behavior by punishing the tobacco industry in limiting its ability to further capitalize on stupid people who smoke, though they know in the long run, it will kill them. By placing a tax on tobacco, the state is making an attempt at regulating social behavior. Who controls the industry? Those with the means of getting what they want. Still, people should be smart. The government should not have to tell us to wear a seat belt, or not to drink alcohol while pregnant. Sad to say, though, it must because those that profit will not tell society such things.

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