Friday, July 06, 2007

Gambling Addictions and Chinese Auctions

In this week's Jewish Press, a social worker wrote to the "Dear Rachel" column about gambling addictions that she has seen manifested through the ever popular Chinese Auctions. She claims that there are families who diverted needed funds for food or clothing in hopes of winning a coveted prize in a Chinese Auction.

I share her discomfort with using gambling as a form of fundraising (although the suggest that we return to the bake sale and yard sale model strikes me as ludicrous at best) and I have stated so in other forums on j-blogs like Hirhurim.

Rachel dismissed the letter writer's concerns and I think the Jewish Press should be called on the carpet for publishing her advice when it is clear that she knows very little about the subject, its many forms, and the way that the problem can manifest itself. I may have to sit down and pen a well written letter myself this week, even though I am hardly the expert and would prefer to hear from the psychologists/psychiatrists in the frum community that deal with addictions.

I am not that expert needed to address the question, but I have seen enough to know that gambling takes on many forms and that Rachel's assertions are severely mistaken. Two of the assertions include the following (please, please read the entire letter and response for full context):
  • If one is a gambler at heart, his/her craving will not be satisfied at a Chinese Auction charity gathering..
  • The person who was of the opinion that people need to exercise self-control is onto something. Everyone knows his/her own limits. If someone ends up spending more than what s/he originally intended to in order to secure a better chance to win a preferred item, then the money will have been well spent.

Regarding the first assertion: Gambling takes on many forms. Some people gamble in a regular way, e.g. casinos and their addiction can be more easily spotted. But other people gamble in a hidden way, under the cloak of another activity, for example "investing" or "recreation."

I know a (now ex) husband who borrowed nearly six figures against their home to "invest." He would sit in front of his computer for hours on end watching his "investments," neglecting his (now ex) wife, child, and other obligations/interests in the process. He thinks of himself as an "investor," but I believe he would be diagnosed as a "gambler." I don't believe this person has ever spent any time in casinos, but he satisfies his problem through borrowing to invest with the intention of making money.

Regarding the second assertion: I'm in shock!!! This is probably one of the most ridiculous assertions I've ever seen in a Torah Oriented Jewish Publication. "Everyone knows [their] own limits." Surely if every individual and every family knew their own limits, we would not need a program to help bochurim quit smoking. We would not have a problem with young men and not so young men drinking themselves into comas on Purim. We would not have a problem with fathers or mothers taking money needed for the basic upkeep of their homes and spending it on luxuries.

I agree with the original letter writer: we should be concerned about the proliferation of Chinese Auctions. One never knows who the blind person is and what his/her stumbling block is. While the issue of gambling is one of halachic discussion, the fact that a professional gambler is excluded from eidut should give us a clue that gambling is not a preferred way to raise funds or spend our recreational time.

The Jewish Press should have never published her response.


DAG said...

The JP should fire Rachel...horrible advice....again

Anonymous said...

I am aware that using gambling to raise funds is a wide spread and longstanding practice. Nonetheless, I don't like it, for the reasons you mentioned. I would go further. I don't like any fundraising other than explaining the need and asking for donations, preferably along with an audited statement showing how the organization uses the money. I don't even like fundraising dinners. In addition to being boring, they spend large sums on caterers and hotels, and much of the money spent by the attendees is not tax deductable.

Ezzie said...

While I basically agree, I have mixed feelings about this. I think a small compromise [for lack of a better term] might be to limit any family to a certain amount (say, $50) for the raffle, with requests that people give more if they can and wish.

That'll remind people that institutions need money, bring them to a place where they can really be pitched to, yet ensure that people aren't spending money they can't afford.

Ayelet said...

The person who answers the Dear Rachel letters is incredibly stupid, IMHO. Rare is the occasion she answers with something intelligent and to the point. Her responses usually consist of one of the following: a. You don't know what you're talking about so get a grip. b. You're in a bad situation so the only thing you can do is daven and hope for the best. Ugh!! I miss the real Rachel (Bluth).

As for Chinese Auctions, I think that the letter writer is probably right about people having gambling problems that feed on these auctions. However, I do not think this is a good reason to abolish them. They are obviously very effective fundraisers and there aren't many options out there that compare. A bake sale is just not going to cut it. Also, people with addictions need to address their issues. Abolishing auctions is not the answer to their problem. they'll find another form of gambling to indulge in (Atlantic City, lottery, eBay, etc.). For illustration purposes, if someone has a food addiction, would it be fair to say that we shouldn't serve any food when they're around? No. Everybody else doesn't need to be punished. They know how to enjoy the food responsibly without overeating. Rather, this person needs to recognize his problem and deal with it. Besides, even if we were to institute the "no serving food around him" rule, he'll just find the food elsewhere.

Scraps said...

I agree that Chinese auctions feed people's gambling addictions, but I also agree that there isn't really a good replacement for them. I will occasionally give money to an organization through a Chinese auction myself if I think it's a worthy cause, but I don't really expect to win, so I don't usually spend much.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of governments that tax cigarette use, not really to stop this use, but to raise money by a means other than official taxation. How many in these governments would really be happy if the smokers all quit?

Which activities are OK to use for raising money? Whatever is convenient and "works", or whatever is proper for a Torah Jew?

And what is it that could make a Torah Jew more likely to contribute when there is a gimmick?

Anonymous said...

By "official taxation", I meant the kind that has to be paid by all citizens---the kind of tax we all complain about.

Anonymous said...

i have heard of at least one leading posek (Feivel Cohen) who holds Chinese Auctions to be Assur as gambling.

Lion of Zion said...

"we should be concerned about the proliferation of Chinese Auctions."

what about lotteries and and bingo to raise $ for schools?

Orthonomics said...

Ari-I don't care for any of them. I think the Chinese Auction with its glossy pages probably attracts a new type of customer that is less interested or not at all interested in Bingo.

Lion of Zion said...


yes, they do really good marketing with the chinese auctions. it can be big social event. now that i think about it, the appeal is very different than bingo. i can't imagine young couples, college students or teenager going to bingo, but they show up in throngs at the auctions.