Thursday, February 25, 2010

How To Lose Money Without Really Trying

Singapore’s first casino has just opened. Under the country’s former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew such an establishment would have never been allowed but with the need for more revenue and gambling available just across the border in Malaysia, the present government feels it is justified. Also, the so-called ‘integrated resort’ is creating 16,000 jobs and will bring in more tourists. At a public meeting the other day Mr. Lee made his feelings about gambling fairly clear when he commented with a laugh, ‘They want to gamble. I don’t understand why they want to lose. You surely will not win’. In reference to Resorts World Sentosa, which is operating the casino, he added, ‘The boss counted $3.5 million on the first day and $3.7 million on the second day.’ Singaporeans clearly see gambling differently – 149,000 of them visited the casino in the first week. For me, despite all the glamour, glitz, world-class entertainment and up-market cuisine, it’s really just about relieving people of their money. But maybe I’m just an old killjoy.
Gambling (jutakila) was already an ancient activity by the Buddha's time and the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu scriptures, contain the famous 'Gambler's Lament' in which a man cries after having wagered and lost his wife and children. Such extreme betting is also mentioned in the Tipitaka (M.III,107). Hardly surprisingly, the Buddha saw gambling as an unskillful activity. He said: 'There are these six dangers of being addicted to gambling. In winning one begets hatred; in losing one mourns the loss of one’s wealth; one's word is not accepted in court; one is avoided by both friends and officials; one is not sought after for marriage because people say a gambler cannot support a wife' (D.III,183). On another occasion he said that 'squandering wealth on dice' leads to one's decline (Sn.106). However, we might distinguish three types of gambling - recreational, habitual and addictive. The first type is when someone occasionally plays cards for small stakes or buys a lottery ticket to support a charity. Habitual gambling is to gamble a significant but manageable percentage of one's income on a regular basis. Addictive gambling is the inability to resist the opportunity to gamble and thus be constantly in debt. From a Buddhist perspective, recreational gambling would be considered harmless and not against the Precepts. However, because all gambling plays on at least some element of greed it is certainly unbecoming for Buddhist organizations to raise funds by lotteries and games of chance. Habitual and addictive gambling are psychologically, socially and spiritually harmful because they are motivated by and reinforce delusion, avarice and the mistaken belief in good and bad 'luck.' For the Buddha, it is being virtuous that makes one 'lucky', not having a winning streak. He said: 'If a gambler were to win a fortune on his very first throw his luck would nonetheless be insignificant. It is many times more 'lucky' to conduct oneself wisely with body, speech and mind and after death be reborn in heaven' (M.III,178).


Unknown said...

It was interesting to watch the opening of the first such establishment on the news. People were paying $100 just to get in, and one resident of Pulau Ikan Yu (Shark Island) was quite overcome by the occasion, saying that he was very very happy. The government was definitely hell bent in introducing such establishments as they offered the owners about a quarter of the usual tax rate as applied in other places like Macao. No doubt that in time the robbery and suicide rate will increase as a result; great planning.

As far as gambling goes, anyone with a knowledge of slot machines knows that their actual payout is adjusted so that the owners reap a huge profit. It is not really gambling on slots, the casino always wins big due to being able to 'fix' the machines.

As for gamblers in general, they always keep gambling until they lose, so winning occasionally is meaningless. Just a very obvious example of the general ignorance of many human beings.

Unknown said...

I have seen a lot of gambling, and I've thought that it must be considered a philosophical statement, because people are doing it out of their own choice, as an act of their free will. They have attained the precious human life and now they use it for gambling. You can't say that they've never heard of any other uses for this precious opportunity of human life. They could be staying home practicing shila, samadhi and prajna, but they see gambling as a better use of their time and accumulated resources. This is a difficult question, I don't wish to be merely cynical, I certainly see it as a philosophical stance. Having said this there usually follows a discussion about other forms of use of leisure and free time, etc...