From Rabbi Weber
Once a year, for our anniversary, Shira and I go to Atlantic City. Since our anniversary is in March and our day off is Tuesday, we get a very nice hotel room for almost nothing. We make up for the discount room with a dinner for two in one of the really excellent restaurants which dot the casino hotels.
After dinner, we head to Shira’s favorite: the video poker machines. Big spenders that we are, we go for the quarter-slots. Even there, we set out a specific amount of money we are going to play with. Most often that sum lasts long enough to provide our entertainment for the evening. Once in a while we agree to put in a little more because the money disappeared more quickly than expected. Even more rarely we walk away with enough to cover our dinner. Bottom line, if Atlantic City is depending on us to stay solvent, it’s in deep trouble.
But as of December, we New Jersey residents don’t need to shlep to AC to gamble anymore. We can now do it from the comfort of our homes, or anywhere in New Jersey with an internet connection. Yes, people have been gambling online since the Internet was invented, but now New Jerseyans can do it legally. According to news report, nearly 40,000 of us signed up for a gambling account in the first week it was offered.
And this isn’t just online poker. The new virtual casinos offer slots, blackjack, video poker(!), roulette and craps, along with cash bonuses for signing up.
In general, I don’t care what people do with their money; after all, it’s their money. But I have seen, first-hand in our congregation, what happens when a gambling addiction goes undetected or unaddressed. And that is where online gambling scares me – a lot.
A web site called techaddiction.ca, which offers help “for video game and computer addiction,” describes some of the ways that online gambling raises red flags – or more accurately, doesn’t raise red flags:
When I talk with teenagers about money management, I ask them why casinos use chips instead of paper money for gambling. The answer is because the less money seems like money, the easier it is for us to spend it. (That’s why every store takes credit cards, even though it costs them 2% or more of each transaction; we spend more when we only need to provide a signature.) With online gambling we remove real money even further from the equation: no need to lay paper money on the table to change it into chips; as noted by techaddiction, just click and the money is withdrawn from your bank account.
Governor Christie claims that online gambling will bring a billion dollars to the state’s casinos in the very first year; the most conservative estimates are around $300 million. Remember, the system is set up so only people who are physically in New Jersey will be allowed onto the sites; from what I read, even residents who live near our state borders are having trouble proving they really live here. So what this means is that we – you and I, and our neighbors – are expected to lose hundreds of millions of dollars this year. And next year. And the year after that. And that scares me, because I have seen what happens when people go broke in Atlantic City. Now we can go broke in our pajamas.
We have just brought a casino into every home and workplace in our state. Let’s be careful out there, and let’s keep an eye on those who may need us to pull them out before they drown. Remember, the Jewish ideal of pikuah nefesh – saving a life – is the highest commandment of all.