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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Is playing the slot machines a sin?

If playing the stock market is a sin, then playing slots is a sin. You may think this is a flippant remark, but there is really little difference, if at all. In both instances, one is gambling, and in both instances one can get wiped out, though this is ironically more likely to happen in stocks, specially the commodities market.

Yet one who invests in the market is considered a business person, but one who plays the slots is called a gambler, with all the pejoratives attached to that label. Why?

Is it because playing the slots is fun? That could not be it, because there is nothing sinful in having fun. Could it be that in the event you win big, you are taking away money from others? Again, that could not be it, because it is the perpetually wealthy "house" that pays out, and about the house you hardly need worry. Besides, it would then turn out that the sin in gambling is actually winning, but if you lose, that is acceptable.

The fact that you asked this question indicates that there is a sniff of sinfulness associated with slots, even with gambling. And it does not help that cities that specialize in gambling, and the ugly behaviours that gambling usually begets, are sometimes referred to as a sin city.

In Jewish tradition, gambling is allowed, but being only a gambler is frowned upon. The occasional gambling foray is one thing. Doing nothing but playing the slots, and thereby doing nothing useful for society, is roundly condemned. We are here to make a difference, to help and enhance others. To spend life just pursuing pleasure in a narcissistic frenzy, whether through slots or any other unsavoury activity, is a waste of a life; in other words, the ultimate sin.

Additionally, playing the slots with money, even only a small amount, that is needed to feed the family, who now must go hungry, is also irresponsible and sinful. So, in answer to your question — playing slots is not inherently sinful, but could be sinful if the playing causes adverse repercussions.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on February 16, 2013

Wed, February 21 2018 6 Adar 5778