Progressively Speaking: Is there a Jewish view on tighter regulation of gambling?

Progressively Speaking: Is there a Jewish view on tighter regulation of gambling?

Rabbi Neil Janes gives a progressive Jewish view on a topical issue

Well-considered, tighter regulation of gambling surely fulfils the noble vision of the biblical prophets and should be supported by all Jews.

When we look at the question of gambling regulation, we can see that the topic straddles many different issues.

Judaism traditionally has taken a rather negative view of gambling. The Mishnah rules that dice players and pigeon racers were individuals prohibited from being witnesses.

In the rabbinic mind, someone who gambled was liable to lie about monetary matters and made little useful contribution to society. There was also a view that gambling was akin to theft – after all, no-one plays to lose!

Today the question is how our society should regulate gambling to allow individuals to make choices freely while protecting the most vulnerable.

We must address the issues of addiction, of the disproportionate effects of Fixed Betting Terminals on the poorest people and the wider issue of betting companies being principally interested in profit.

Regulating things like Fixed Odd Betting Terminals is in the interest of all in society, from the left and right on the political spectrum. According to studies, they disproportionately affect those with gambling problems and those struggling most financially.

The only companies with an interest in keeping regulation at bay are the bookmakers and they are principally interested in profit.

While job losses will certainly be devastating if they materialise, the overall, positive impact on the wellbeing of society is clear.

Jewish tradition is passionately supportive of individual choice and responsibility. However, as progressive Jews, a just society involves maintaining our individual freedoms while protecting the most vulnerable from exploitation.

At West London Synagogue our social action work brings us into direct contact with socioeconomic deprivation.

Poverty has a direct link with physical and mental wellbeing, access to education, vulnerability to exploitation, housing and so on.

Rabbi Dr Israel Mattuck wrote: “The Prophets were animated by a pained sympathy for the poor, who suffered from the rapacity of the rich, the venality of judges, the neglect or despotism of rulers…’To judge the cause of the needy’ meant more than to protect them from oppression by the strong and rich. It meant also to protect them against want, to supply them with the means of livelihood.”

Opposition to tighter regulation is also opposition to this noble calling for society.

Rabbi Neil Janes is part of the rabbinic team of West London Synagogue and Executive Director of the Lyons Learning Project


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