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Friday, February 08, 2008

Financial Infidelity II: Gambling

The letter that follow is from this week's Yated Letter to the Editor. This letter fits well into the "Our Finances" series (I and II) and adds to the previous topic "Financial Infidelity" and well as the "Get-Rich-Quick" mentality discussed recently. It isn't the more positive post I was looking to post, but that will have to wait. My comments in orange.

THE GAMBLING CRISIS [Gambling in frum circles deserves a "crisis" label imo].

Dear Editor,

I would like to begin by thanking Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz and the Yated for the wonderful job done on a weekly basis. The divrei Torah and up-to-date news that the Yated provides to Klal Yisroel is a tremendous kiddush Hashem. Of course, like so many others, I especially look forward to the interesting letters in the Readers Write section. I have decided to write this letter to make the public aware of a problem that is affecting us in the frum community, and I hope you publish it. I have been reading the letters about the shidduchim crisis and money issues, which I wholeheartedly agree are matters that should be discussed in public. This issue that I am writing about is not mentioned in our circles at all and I think it is a growing problem in our community. Parents, wives and mechanchim should know about this issue, which can rip apart families and destroy lives. The issue I am writing about is gambling.

The Gemara says in Maseches Sanhedrin (24a) that a person who is a mesacheik b’kuvya - who bets on pigeons (one who gambles) - is posul for eidus. There is a machlokes as to the reason that this is so. The Gemara discusses whether it is because if you gamble, you are not really letting the other person take the money, and if you win, it’s like stealing, or because since you don’t have a real job, you might take a bribe to say false testimony. Whatever the reason is, it is definitely something that the Torah does not allow (creates distasteful character traits too). What makes gambling such a problem (and anyone who has been involved with it can attest to this) is that like drugs and alcohol, it is very addictive. Whether it’s because of the thrill of winning or the dream of becoming instantly rich, it can make someone obsessed with playing “just one more hand.” There are many types of gambling. There is gambling on Chanukah, where a spin of a dreidel in a ninth-grade class can go for $10 (parents should be outraged if schools allow money, as opposed to candies, to be used in school for Chanukah. . . . I know I would be), or where a quick office game of kvitlach can lose your husband a week’s paycheck in a matter of minutes! (Not mentioned is Chinese Auctions, which I discuss here. My readers know I'm no fan of this popular fundraising method and I wonder if the "gateway" to other types of gambling can start innocently through giving).

Then you have lottery tickets, which can be purchased by a 16-year-old boy using his bar mitzvah money or weekly allowance. (I have yet to discuss "Their money" in much details on this blog, with the exception of this post, but I do think parents must hold their children to an agreement of what is and what isn't an appropriate expenditure with "their money," i.e. the money that have to spend while food, shelter, and education are being provided for them. Money for lotto tickets would not be one of those appropriate expenditures).

The greatest addiction for most men involved in gambling is the game of poker. It has become extremely popular since the turn of the century, with millions getting hooked. There are many places to play, some that are legal, some that are not. There are also online poker sites (they are illegal in the United States, but the owners are very smart and base them out of other countries), where one can play and lose lots of cash from the comfort of one’s own home and with the click of a mouse! The options are endless. It’s an addiction that has caused many people their friendships, their jobs, and, chas v’shalom, their marriages.

I know of cases where wives think their husbands are at work or elsewhere, when they are really wasting their precious time and money playing poker (I have read cases of female "financial infidelity" involving gambling also. But, I think that in general, gambling, would top the list of expenditures a husband does not want his wife to find about, just as designer clothing a wife didn't need would top the list of expenditures a wife doesn't want her husband to find out about).

I know of a few instances where boys have gone into their marriages with thousands of dollars of debt because of gambling and credit card bills. It is hard enough financially for most young couples; starting off in debt and having a gambling problem surely doesn’t help. (Next topic on my list: Should singles ask for a credit report in addition to the Dor Yesharim number?)

I am writing this letter to help publicize this growing issue in the frum world. If you know of someone with this terrible addiction or suspect someone of having it, help them. Rabbeim, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, family members and friends, please help out those who need it.

We have to keep an eye on this growing problem.

May Hashem help us in overcoming any problems or addictions that might be prevalent.

Dice K.Flatbush, Brooklyn

28 comments:

BrooklynWolf said...

Please forgive the ignorance, but is gambling in the frum community that much of a problem? I'm not doubting, I'm asking strictly out of ignorance. Aside from the occasional lottery ticket that I buy*, the nickel-dime-quarter poker games that my mother used to play with friends (where you really couldn't lose more than $10-$20), and Chinese Auctions, I've never really seen much "hardcore" gambling in the Jewish community. I've never even heard of k'vitlach (can someone explain that to me?).

Is it really that bad of a problem?

The Wolf

* I buy one ticket if the pot is high enough -- and only one. I figure like this -- if I'm meant to win, I only need one ticket. If I'm not meant to win, a million tickets won't do me any good.** Not that I expect to win, of course, but for $1 I get to dream for a few days what I would do if I won $100 million.

** Yeah, I know that some of you will say that if I'm meant to win, I could also find the winning ticket in the street.

The Wolf

Ahavah B. said...

Yes, you should get a credit report on a prospective spouse.

True story: My husband and I got married in December, so for that year I suggested we file separately - he said that sounded fine. So I did. The next year, I collected all our information and filed everything properly as married filing jointly -and promptly got a bill for $22,000 from the IRS for "average estimated taxes" because my husband had never filed his tax returns, ever, he sheepishly admitted.

After fainting on the floor, I was fortunately able to spend the next couple of weeks going around collecting information and was able to late file his old taxes, and only paid a small amount in penalties since if he had actually filed, he would have gotten a refund most years. So there was no interest due B"H.

So it is important to have an idea of how financially responsible your prospective spouse has been, because whatever oopsies and oversights and just plain ignorance happened in the past can most certainly come back and bite you in the future.

Gambling is also one of those things that you REALLY need to know about and deal with. Even "innocent" things add up over the course of a year.

ProfK said...

A student the other night volunteered the following: "The casinos in Atlantic City love X-mas Eve. The casinos are packed with Jews and Asians. It's a great night for them." I'm not passing judgment and there is the concept of "nitah" held by many, but it does give one a bit of a pause when the student is a young married man under 25 and knows this fact from personal experience. Maybe he does this only once a year, and maybe he doesn't. I'm far less worried about older married men who get together once a month in someone's home to play penny ante poker then I am about young men who might be frequenting casinos on a regular basis.

SephardiLady said...

BrooklynWolf-I'm not sure how widespread gambling is in frum circles. A while back I read something about guys at YU who put a few hundred into a pool. It makes me think there could be an issue. I've already written about the Chareidi Lotto in Israel (need to link to that), which shows that lottos are attractive for the religious. And, I'd say we all know people who make investments that look a whole lot more like gambling (at least for the stage of life they are in).

ProfK-Interesting.

Ahavah B-You are ahead of me. I'm thinking a credit report should become standard in dating. It is already recommended in general circles. I see frum circles suffering from similiar scenarios. I'd say the time may have come.

Tamiri said...

I was shocked - shocked! a long time ago, when a friend told me that her sister and BIL regularly fly from Chicago to Atlantic City for the sole purpose of gambling. This sister and BIL, the parents of children, who wore "the garb" (wig, black suit) were spending money they claimed not to have... gambling? So, I am going to take a leap and venture a guess that if these people go, there are plenty more like them. I have to add that I don't shock that easily but gambling + ultra frum = something that did not make sense. But the sister claimed they were never the sole Jews there.
So, whatever, let's add one more tarnish to our stellar record. What is the world coming to? I mean, our Jewish world.
And BrooklynWolf, unless the women were playing for tzedaka purposes... $10 to $20 is a lot of money to waste.

Ariella said...

Some distant relatives raved about Vegas. Of course, the hotels are inexpensive to lure you in to where the real money is made -- gambling. And of course, all who go to Vegas gamble. The relatives who went as grandparents with young children and the parents considered this a great outing and cited the great number of frum people and kosher options in the area.

I still think of Vegas as the Sdom that Rabbi Copperman described it as years ago. Aside from the gambling, it is infamous for showgirls who show quite a bit of skin-- not what one associates with proper entertainment for frum families.

ProfK said...

Ariella,
For one thing, Las Vegas does not push itself as a destination for families with young children. Yes, there are a few excellent things that can be done with children there--after all, more than 2 million people and their families reside in the city, but Las Vegas as a tourist destination is not oriented towards children.

Re the showgirls, they don't walk around the streets or hotels. They are in shows that are clearly labeled for what they are. They aren't free shows. It is a question of choice, just as it is in any city with attractions that aren't for a frum person. There are plenty of "entertainment" opportunities that don't have showgirls in them.

And yes, there are numerous frum people, shuls and kosher dining choices. A town with 4 yeshivot in it, three mikvaot, and numerous frum shuls is hardly Sdom.

Oh yes, and everyone who goes to Las Vegas does not do so to gamble. It's the convention center of the US.

Diana said...

When I was 18 and not yet frum, my family took a trip to Atlantic City. On Saturday at lunch time I was shocked to see a man in Chasidish garb telling someone else which slots to play with his money.

SuperRaizy said...

In New York, there is a program to help people who are addicted to gambling. It's called SAFE and it's run by the Sephardic Bikur Holim. Their phone # is
866-569-SAFE

Ezzie said...

While I agree with much of the post, I'll note that not all "gambling" is bad, and that most people are able to control themselves rather well. I have a number of friends who play poker on occasion, and a few who do so regularly - and the latter group essentially gets a bonus income from it. Poker can often be far more of a skill game for a person than playing the stock market, which is far more complicated and dependent on much greater factors. I'm often more concerned about people who "play the stock market", making a number of trades a week or even a day, when traders at hedge funds or large brokers will often make a handful of trades in a month.

For many people, a game of poker - even heading to AC or LV for a day or two - is simply a nice form of vacation or entertainment. Those with control keep their spending in check, limiting their gambling money to certain preset amounts that they're willing to lose to have that fun time. Ironically, this often results in them losing less than that amount (odds are you don't lose everything), while if they'd go on vacation elsewhere, they'd be spending far more on other items because they don't make that same limit.

Finally, IIRC, the halachos about gambling (re: eidus) apply only to someone who makes a majority of their parnassah from it; the examples shown are games of pure chance, not ones such as poker which are not; and other forms (such as pools, for something like football or March Madness) are considered perfectly fine halachically. (Ask your LOR, I'm not a posek.)

Of course, anyone who has an addiction or is gambling beyond small amounts (or think their spouse is) should immediately speak to someone about it. It's a horrible addiction.

Ariella said...

ProfK, trust me the relatives I spoke of did gamble while there. I am not assuming it; they told me so. In this family, one of the members even goes off on his own to Atlantic City in the middle of a family party. I am told there are even slot machines in the airport. Obviously, the children are not allowed to participate in the gambling, but think of the impact of seeing their parents and grandparents doing so. And I would not take my children -- or myself for that matter -- through a place where they would be surrounded by the atmosphere of the showgirls, even if they don't watch the those particular shows. I would imagine children would be banned from some of those, as well -- at least one would hope.

ProfK said...

Ariella,
By your own words you have never been to Las Vegas and therefore cannot say what the atmosphere is. For one thing, children cannot see their parents gambling since it is against the law for any minors to be on the gambling floor, and the law is strictly upheld. And as I said, children are not encouraged by the tourism board. Some of the hotels do not allow guests with children to stay there.

There is no being surrounded by an atmosphere of showgirls. The old Las Vegas of many decades ago had more of this, but today's premier hotels do not even hint at the entertainment available in some places. (And yes, children under 18 are banned from these shows.) What you will get are the beautifully painted fresco ceilings in the Venetian, as well as the grand canals of Venice and the Trevi fountain of Rome. What you get are the magnificent conservatories of the Bellagio and the Wynn and the truly beautiful art flowered ceiling of the Bellagio. What you get are exploding volcanos and fountains that dance to classical music. What you get is an over the top elegance. What you get are miles and miles of shopping arcades presenting the "top" products from around the world--not so different from 13th Avenue actually in the products they offer. And what you also get is the most incredible collection of spas all in one geographical location.

Yes, the airport has slot machines, although few people play them. The odds aren't as good as in the various casinos.

Mike S. said...

Profk:

I have spent some time in Las Vegas without gambling. Usually alone on business, but once we went on vacation with my in-laws. We did not gamble (as I told my family, all that lavish architecture was not paid for by the grateful donations of winners) but I did find the atmosphere debauched. Perhaps the most extreme example was the woman on a public bus who suggested to my then 12-year old daughter that she consider going in to phone sex, as it was an up and coming industry. My kids did enjoy a magic show and the indoor roller coasters.

ProfK said...

Mike,
Sorry that happened to your daughter. Please just keep in mind that the strip is only part of Las Vegas and you can meet all kinds there, just as here. We've been in Las Vegas about 40 times, business, pleasure and health and I didn't see anything that I haven't already seen on the old 42nd street in Manhattan or in other parts of the city. My friend's daughter was approached by someone to get into his car--in the heart of Borough Park. A young man was so approached--in the five towns. "Sin" is not exclusive to Las Vegas. Probably the same level of weirdness as any other large metropolitan city and maybe even less, because the cops are so vigilant in policing for it in Las Vegas.

If you ever take the kids back, try the Lied Children's Museum or Red Rock Canyon.

Abbi said...

Profk, is the LV tourist board paying you to earnestly market the city as family friendly?

Many pple see LV as synonymous with gambling and therefore not a great family vacation spot. For these pple, no amount of convincing will help.

Sorry, I lived in NYC for 10 years, and was in Times Square plenty of times and no one ever approached me about entering the sex trade.

JS said...

A few comments:

I've been to Vegas, and the city tries very hard to advertise as a "family friendly" place because they want parents to come and gamble. I recall seeing a lot of parents pushing strollers up and down the strip believe it or not. And yes, it is seedy on the strip. Even though the shows and call girls and such are "tucked away" there are immigrants on the street loudly slapping these cards to attract attention. These cards are X-rated and advertise various call girl services. Not knowing what they were and thinking it was I took one - well, my friend and I were quite surprised to say the least.

Perhaps a bit off topic, but am I the only one who is sick and tired of people using halacha to justify whether a behavior is OK or not? I don't understand how people can even debate whether gambling or drinking or other ilicit or illegal activities are OK by halacha. Honestly, I don't care if someone could quote me a mishna that says getting drunk and gambling are mitzvot, it's still a terrible idea and I wish rabbis would stand up. Even a wishy-washy statment like "that generation was holier and on a higher level, for us though it is not OK" would be better than the current chillul hashem debates that go on over what Rav Yosi or the Rif said - it shouldn't take a gadol to know this is bad and should be stopped, and torah shouldn't be used to these ends.

Lastly, it's hard to say how large a problem gambling is. Nearly every frum guy I know gambles occassionally. Many guys in our building have a "gambling budget" as a compromise with their wives. They make fairly regular trips to atlantc city as well. How much they gamble and how much they win or lose I have no idea, but it's prevalent in our community. I do hear anecdotal stories about mammoth wins and losses occassionally (on the order of a few hundre to low thousands). What's perhaps more shocking is how some of the wives enjoy coming along and gambling with their husbands. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this per se if it's non-addictive and done in a controlled manner - i.e. I'm willing to lose no more than X and I have budgetted that losing X is not a problem and not taking away from other more important expenses (shul dues, yeshiva, children, savings, etc). But, the vast majority I know who do gamble would be better off with that money in their pockets.

Elitzur said...

I feel it necessary to strongly come out against ProfK and in complete agreement with js. The fact that Jews live in LV says nothing as to the general atmosphere of the city. Jews live in NY to but you still can't look at he billboards and LV is much worse...

ProfK said...

Elitzur,

Jews live in NY to but you still can't look at he billboards and LV is much worse...
Thus speak the Jews who have never ventured beyond the strip. Those who live in the city don't live on the strip any more than those Jews who live in NYC live on 42nd street. You go to these areas only if you have business there or if you choose to go. Whole swathes of people live their lives without going to the strip. Of course, for those people who have a "taivoh" for what the strip offers, that problem is within the person and would be there wherever they lived. NYC is more than 5 times the population of Las Vegas and I see what goes on here--easily 5 times the problems of Las Vegas. If there is a vice alive, it lives in NYC.

I suppose it's easier to blame Las Vegas then to look in our own backyards.

Abbi said...

Sorry, profk, you haven't really made a compelling case for why a family would deliberately choose to go to LV if gambling was not their primary interest. The attractions you mentioned- gaudy imitations at best. Much better to save the money and go to NY and see real works of art at the many real museums there.

If Jews choose to make LV their home and never venture to the strip- great. I still don't see why that would make a great family vacation.

On the flip side- NY has plenty of vice but also many more great family oriented tourist attractions that are in no way connected to the vice parts (you don't have to be anywhere near the prostitutes on 10 ave to enjoy the Statue of Liberty, the Met, the Moma, the Zoo, etc. )

ProfK said...

I love how museums are always mentioned first when extolling the cultural virtues of NY. Come on all you readers, honesty time. How many times did you go to a museum in NYC last year? How many times when it wasn't a shidduch date? Anyone go to the Statue of Liberty more than once in their lifetime? Anyone do the Ellis Island tour? Just how much of the culture of the city are people actually partaking in?

Just by the by, if you are looking for unusual in museums, the Hermitage in cooperation with the
Venetian Hotel in LV has opened up a branch of the museum. Exhibits you won't find in NYC.

I'm speaking from the point of view of dual citizenship--NYC and LV. And let me repeat what I said in the first of my postings: LAS VEGAS DOES NOT ENCOURAGE FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN TO COME THERE ON VACATION. Read any of the excellent guidebooks and travel books and they will tell you that first thing. Not the city's fault if people don't listen. You can't complain if you've been forewarned.

Gaudy imitations? De gustibus non disputandum est. Yes sirree, NYC is just a paeon to good taste.

JS said...

profk,

I don't think anyone is arguing that there is life away from the strip in Vegas. I also don't think anyone is arguing that if your goal is to see wholesome, interesting things you couldn't find it in Vegas. My friend and I gambled maybe $50 each, we spent our time visiting all the sites in the hotels and going to the hoover dam and grand canyon. We enjoyed all of those experiences, the hotels really are beautiful and have amazing visual and cultural appeal.

However...to say Las Vegas isn't advertised to families is ridiculous. A simple google search will tell you otherwise. Many of these sites offer "family deals" and have suggestions about how you can dump the kids to go out and gamble and party - in fact, many hotels offer babysitting services for this express purpose. Also, say what you will about New York City, but we don't have people handing out X-rated advertising cards (these are given out indescriminately and are also all over the sidewalks as people shockingly discover what they were just handed). We also don't have taxis and vans with pictures of practically naked women advertising call girls or advertisements all over the place for strip clubs or other risque shows.

Your point that every city has seedy elements, while true, is not just a matter of degree - in vegas it's the very culture and attitude of the place. I would have to try very hard as a visitor (say for a convention) to not encounter these elements. The same could not be said for NYC. In NYC you have to actively seek it out.

ALG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ALG said...

1. I went to Las Vegas with my Orthodox family when I was a little kid, maybe 10 or 11. (We kids were therefore probably 12, 10, 7, and 4 years old at the time.) This would have been around 1990. It was part of a larger all-American road trip that look us from Los Angeles to Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah, with one overnight stop in Las Vegas. We were allowed to walk through the gambling floor where we prevailed upon my father to put 25 cents into one slot machine, which he agreed to even though he thought it was silly. We won nothing and went on to see a free circus at "Circus Circus" and the exploding volcano and lots and lots of bright lights and other stuff. The hotel was very cheap. We went to a good kosher restaurant for dinner, which was nice because we ate lots and lots of peanut butter in Utah! It wasn't a bad way to spend an evening and night. Mostly, I remember that it was 109 degrees during the day, which impressed me mightily.

I think this arguing over the relative wholesomeness of cities is silly. I now live in New York City and have now been subjected to more gross things that I would rather never have to see than I care to share (used condoms on the sidewalk, people peeing and pooping in public--I also see people pushing cards advertising girlie shows into people's hands as I walk to/from work, but they don't give them to me, seeing as I am a woman), so please don't defend NYC as a particularly wholesome city. Smut exists everywhere people congregate in large enough numbers. I certainly don't "actively seek" these things out.

2. At the Jewish high school I went to (Modern Orthodox, co-ed), the boys all gambled on the March Madness college basketball playoffs. They even had one of those trees (showing the winner of each match) tacked up in the hallway. The administration cracked down on it, loudly, one year when a parent of a 7th grade called to complain that her kid had been cheated out of $20 or something. After that, it went underground, but it didn't stop. For whatever that's worth.

3. I was surprised and annoyed to find that someone I was going out with didn't pay his cable and cell phone bills on time. I don't have a long list of what I seek in a mate (nice, smart, respectful, ages 26-35-ish), but I guess it's important to add "pays bills on time and does not carry around credit card debt" to that list. If you can't afford cable TV or a $60/month cell phone plan, get rid of it or cut out some other expense.

david said...

Gambling is a problem as it has always been, but it is now affecting younger and younger people because of its availability online.
I go to AC quite often, and see bochrim (and married men, of course) from BMG and NY yeshivos there ALL the time. (I think the Borgata should set aside a room for davening, since that seems the fav casino of the frum velt)

Therefore I think it is important to ask a prospective shidduch, "does he go to atlantic city?"

Abbi said...

I went to high school and college in NYC, and lived there for an additional two years after college. I went to museums a few times a month ( one year i had membership at MOMA) and I applied to be a summer intern at the Met (didn't get it). So, I'm the wrong person to ask this "truth or dare" question. Museums were a regular hangout for me definitely in high school, not as much in college.

Unfortunately, since I don't live there anymore, it's hard to visit. But next time we visit my family for a trip, I can't wait to take my daughter to the Temple of Dendur and the Guggenheim, etc, etc.

mlevin said...

Abbi – I want to go to LV and I do NOT want to gamble. Nor, do I want to see the shows there. I do not enjoy that type of thing.

If displaying pictures of women’s faces in wigs is assur, then going to museums must be more assur. Imagine all those pictures and statues of unvailed women…

I see no problems with advertising in LV. Have you ever seen a billboard of Britney Spears on 42nd Street? I think most R rated movies manage to cover more body than that.

I agree with wolfe. Just because there are a few people who are addicted to gambling, does not mean that we are in a midst of a gambling crisis. People like to gamble for fun. You may disagree with their priorities, but then, they will most likely disagree with yours. As long as they can afford it.

Abbi said...

mlevin: bon voyage? I hope it's everything you imagine.

Anonymous said...

It is hard for me to think that even though HALACHALLY gambling is not assur, it is not ACCEPTABLE in a community where the average family is struggling for money due to the high cost surrounding education, camps, and weddings for several children. How can throwing away money be justified?

I actually come from a family where my 22 year old sister is in rehab for gambling, and her addiction has nearly torn apart our family. She was $60K in debt and had used my mother's credit cards/checks to further her addiction. The damage done is so hard to repair.