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Gaming, Education, Judaism and Utilitarianism

March 14, 2013

Unfortunately good images seem to stay in our minds for fleeting moments; while negative images are often reproduced and can last generations. For many around the world and in United States the leaders of Alabama have created a few iconic negative ones: Governor Wallace proclaiming, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” Police dogs attacking protesters during the famous march on Selma. We also have outstanding images: our Gulf Shores sugar white beaches, Mercedes made in Alabama, Sweet home Alabama, sung by people around the world, and soon to be Airbus made in Alabama.

One image I don’t quite understand is our political leaders repeatedly focusing upon raiding bingo parlors and other attempts at gambling in Alabama. Judaism’s teaching on gambling is quite clear: if it’s done as simply a game for entertainment it is considered exactly that, entertainment. If it is done as an attempt at a profession, in other words that is the career of the person with no useful production for society it is not okay, but rather wasteful and destructive.

What does all this however say in a utilitarian sense for gaming in the state of Alabama, when we are surrounded by states that allow legal gambling, and use those funds to assist with educational and other state mandated programs? All you have to do is drive to Biloxi, and you will see enough Alabama license plates to make you believe for just a moment you are in downtown Mobile. All you have to do is open the local paper’s entertainment section, and you will see the majority of the largest entertainment ads are not for downtown Mobile, but for the casinos in Biloxi. Clearly citizens of our great state are gambling in Biloxi, and buying lottery tickets in Florida and other states. So it does appear in a utilitarian sense we are negatively affecting revenue that could be flowing into our state to further much-needed causes such as education.

We also must not forget the danger of addiction. Clearly that is a significant problem with gambling, perhaps the most significant. For the addictive personality, gambling can be a terrible vice. This must be gaming’s biggest and extremely serious negative: the many who will take their last dime to a casino with the fervent belief there is hope for a major winning.

Just as the rabbis reluctantly gave in to gambling when not used as a sole form of income, we should have done the same thing to prevent our state from slipping even further down in the ranks in tax funding, often floating off the bottom, when our neighbors opened to gaming. If we can do something to help the education of our students in Alabama, we should do it. Shortsighted planning in years past can lead to long economic declines. Judaism would clearly tell us to keep the big picture in mind: we have a responsibility to help all our citizens: the poor, the needy, the widow, and the fatherless, and the orphan in the largest utilitarian sense. Those are not my words, but rather the words of our greatest prophets 2700 years ago-except the utilitarian part. That has always been our mandate. Now there is even a new twist in state politics: the new plan to take money away from failing schools and allow children to attend private schools with that same money. Clearly this will not benefit the children who will be forced, for various reasons, to remain in those failing schools, now deprived even further of funding. Imagine if Alabama was synonymous with the best public education in the country, and that became our most important iconic image. Just imagine.

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