The Story: The New York Times reports on the latest exploits of a group of Christians who use their skill at card-counting—-keeping track of all the cards seen in blackjack, and then adjusting bets accordingly—-to gain an advantage over casinos. The members, who called themselves the “church group”, believed what they were doing was consistent with their faith because they felt they were using legal means to take money away from an evil enterprise.
The Background: The group’s story was the subject of the award-winning documentary, “Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians,” which was directed by a former member of the group.
Why It Matters: The story raises questions not only about the ethics of card-counting (should Christians be involved in gambling, even if they have an advantage such as counting cards?) but also about where American Christians draw the line between godly behavior and worldliness. Although the articles mention that the group members raised such questions amongst themselves, they don’t seem to have sufficiently resolved the tension between their faith and their vocation.
In an op-ed for CNN, David Drury, one of the team members, gives an unsatisfying answer to the question of why he thinks Jesus would be OK with card counting:
Engage me. Ask the hard questions. Be confounded as I am confounded. But don’t write me off. We are all in the water together. Faith is a journey, and God calls us into relationship.
I remember a man at my table once who was furious with the aggressive way I was playing. “A fool and his money are soon parted,” he said in a huff. For six years I stood ready as ever to be the fool. But me and the money, by way of card-counting wins, never parted.
Mark Treas, a former member of the card-counting team, has a different, though not wholly reassuring, view. For “philosophical reasons,” Treas said he stopped counting cards in 2010 to focus on his family and his test preparation business.
Card counting is morally “a gray area,” Treas said. “I just felt like it didn’t do anything for anyone else. It wasn’t good enough. I think my time can be spent invested in things with higher returns.”