That’s a pretty dry title for this post, about as aptly dry
as Colin Jones’s “The 21st-Century Card Counter.” But the movie
title’s better than the book’s. “Holy Rollers”—not just a play on words, but
also an oxymoron that Hollywood loves. Remember that moment when the Preacher
gunslinger swaps his clerical collar for a pistol in Pale Rider? And now
Netflix has brought us Warrior Nun. It’s very entertaining watching the
ostensible pacifist using violence to attain a righteous end.
Christians, who are presumed to have an aversion to
gambling, take on the House, trying to stick it to the Man (meaning the casino,
not the big G). The result is high drama, and subsequently a blackjack factory
at blackjackapprenticeship.com [to which I have no affiliation].
But is there really anything anti-Christian about gambling? In
his autobiographical book, CJ mentions the pushback he got from his “Christian”
friends. I would point out that a person entering the AP world as a career will
get pushback from non-Christian family and friends, too. If you need my
credentials for empathy with CJ, I will mention that my dad was an ordained
minister, both my parents had PhDs in theology, and I was once caught playing
mah-jongg with friends in the basement of the local Methodist Church on
Christmas Eve. The minister barked at us and scowled, like a sweaty pit boss,
but compounded with some fire-and-brimstone apocalyptic warning about this
being neither the time nor the place to be doing what we were doing.
There isn’t really any anti-gambling agenda in the Bible,
but church-goers seem to have a kneejerk assumption that if society at large
attaches some stigma to an activity, then the official Church policy would have
to be politically to the right of that. Since society pretends to view gambling
as a vice, then the Church would have to condemn gambling at least as strongly,
right? Ignore the haters, CJ!
But what is gambling? What is its defining characteristic? Randomness?
The bible mentions casting lots as a decision-making method for a group, and
the statistician’s “fair coin” is fair because it makes an egalitarian choice
known to be free of any nefarious motive. Quantum theorists wrestle with the
idea that there might be randomness embedded in the structure of the universe,
even deeper than simply our inability to measure things. Einstein’s
misinterpreted quote about God playing dice was not meant to cast any moral judgment
on randomness itself. And perhaps the nature of divine knowledge is not dice
control or foresight of the outcome of dice, but knowledge of the odds of the
APs are not the only ones with random incomes. A food server
gets variable tips each night. An investment banker gets a variable bonus at
the end of the year. A law firm can’t predict what clients will come through
the door, or what the jury awards and billable hours will turn out to be. An
Uber driver can’t exactly predict the fares that will pop up on that little
screen. Last I checked, the amount of cash thrown into the collection plate at
Sunday church is unpredictable! (And don’t some churches have casino-night
fundraisers and run bingo games???) The Bible doesn’t condemn random financial
rewards; rather, it condemns the love of money.
Early in my own career I thought about the definition of “gamble”
in another context. With my American BP, I would say the word “gamble” to
signal that I didn’t have any hole-card information. Two Chinese brothers who sometimes
joined our table would say “gamble” when making a play such as doubling A8
against a dealer’s known hard 16. At first, I thought that their use of the
word “gamble” was very different from mine, until I realized that both of our
teams were using the word “gamble” to mean “to do something risky or dangerous.”
To them, doubling A8 is risky. To me, playing a hand of blackjack without knowing
the hole card is risky!
In society at large and the English language, there is a
negative connotation to the word “risk.” But for all the pessimists who see a
rack half full, I see a rack half empty. Evolution actually rewards a species
whose members are willing to take personal risks. Risk-taking involves a
positive externality, meaning that the group benefits from a risk taken by an
individual. The astronauts who went to the moon might have died, but their
success benefits us all. A person who tries a new food or experimental medical
treatment advances science, but takes a personal risk.
I don’t see anything morally reprehensible about randomness
or risk. Then what is so bad about “gambling”? CJ nails it on page 24 when he
asks “Is card counting even gambling?” What we are doing in the casino is
completely different from what the degens are doing. It’s a different activity,
which is why Stanford Wong used to call it “short-term investing”!
Looking at degenerate gambling, do we see greed? Check.
Sloth? Check. Envy? Check. In fact, let’s double-check that one, since some of
the games have an “Envy Bonus”!
Three sins out of seven ain’t bad. During my last casino
visit, I saw security guards eject a gambler who was cursing out the dealer. We
got Wrath in the house! And looking at the CWs and party-pit dealers and go-go
dancers (have you been to the new Circa?) makes me think that Lust is a no-brainer.
And did you see the line for the seafood buffet? Definite Gluttony.
And you don’t have to go far into the pit or online to find
a guy who boasts about betting 2x$15000, or making $50k today sitting in his
underwear, or using Wong Halves or RevereAPC. Pride’s an easy check, FTW!
Though the Seven Deadly Sins aren’t mentioned in the Bible,
most church-goers buy into the doctrine, and Vegas marketing itself as “Sin
City” doesn’t help CJ’s cause. But within the seven, Greed and Pride are
considered the big two. To win some obscene amount of money that was unearned
goes against the Western/Christian/capitalist ethic that people should get what
they deserve. A lazy person who buys a lottery ticket does not “deserve” to get
rich. (Last I checked, people get lucky all the time in other businesses, but
we’ll worry about our own house.) Every degen who sets foot in a casino is
hoping to get rich, and some of them even expect to win, despite playing a mathematically
Successful APs are willing to put in the time working on
their game, and Greed is not a pre-requisite. The AP does not ask to win
without effort, or win more than EV. Sure, the AP tries to make money from his
activity, but are the people stocking shelves at Walmart volunteers? All those “Christians”
giving CJ grief are in the real-estate business building glass houses.
The smug Pride of the rookie counter who thinks he knows
everything about the game usually goes out the window when the first 100-hour
losing streak comes, at least for the ones who go on to become successful APs. God
loves everyone, but more-so hard workers who constantly try to improve! God
hates squandered gifts. Pope Francis would back me up on that interpretation of
Church doctrine. (We called him “F Money” when he used to BP for us, and he was
so smooth, except I thought his hat didn’t really blend in.) So I think CJ can
rest easy on his career path in general, except …
What does God have to say about splitting Tens? Omg, that’s
just plain Greedy!