What I learned as a card-counting Christian

David Drury

April 9, 2012

Choosing not to "justify" one's actions one way or the other seems to be little more than choosing to ignore any hard questions that might come along with the way one earns ones money. It's hardly a third way. Either their are legitimate reasons to be a professional black jack player or their are not.

Lee Hardy, in his book "The Fabric of this World," defines a Christian idea of vocation as "a social place for the responsible exercise of a significant range of human talents and abilities in the service of one's neighbor."

Professional black jack seems to me to lack any sort of "service of one's neighbor." Yes, if you are "excellent" at black jack, you can make money playing the game. But that seems to be all black jack can be ... a means to an end.

April 9, 2012

I believe every single person who claims to be a Christian has to justify their career choices to the larger Christian community.

Oh, wait, that sounds absolutely absurd. Carry on.

April 9, 2012

"Can card-counting be considered a legitimate Christian vocation?"

When I think of a "legitimate Christian vocation" I think pastor, not game player... no matter that game.

However, if the question is tweaked to "can card-counting Christians be professional card players?" the answer is yes.

"If you gamble, how do you reconcile it with your faith?"

Put your money in the bank, and you gamble. Put your money in a mattress, you gamble. Get in a car and drive to church, you gamble. Spend $15 to see a movie, you gamble. Everything is a gamble. I realize that there are people who think that gambling is this thing that you do to win money, but it isn't.

Gambling is inherent in everything we do, all the time. Whether or not the gambles we take are right or wrong is more about why we are gambling. Doing it for fun? that is OK! Doing it for professional reasons? That is OK too! Hurting people with your gambles? That isn't so OK.

Paul Sherratt
April 10, 2012

In Matthews 'Parable of the Talents' I am always struck by the fact that the Masters servants are entrusted with money and actually expected to make a return on their stewardship; that is to speculate with what they have been given - to gamble. I am always intrigued with what would have happened if their speculation failed and the third, 'wicked' servant then replied, 'Here are your talents Lord, I give them all back for they were never mine to begin with...'

April 10, 2012

The significant questions to me regarding the suitability of careers are:

Does this work and what it produces make the world more like the new heavens and the new earth? Does it contribute to blessing the nations? Does it enable people to be more loving, more honest, more connected, more genuinely human?

These are difficult questions to answer, and I ponder them about my own work (which is software development). There is probably no career in existence which can be guaranteed to pass these tests.

As concerns card-counting as a career, I have doubts that these questions could be answered "yes". This is in large part because as far as I can see, card-counting doesn't "produce" anything in particular, apart from money.

I have an acquaintance who is employed by a patent troll, and I have similar doubts about the suitability of that profession. It is as far as I can see a "parasitic" profession.

James Gilmore
April 11, 2012

I'm forced to wonder if the reaction to this piece would have been different if, instead of being a card-counter, the author were an investment banker, hedge fund manager, or bank executive.

I'd wager there would be a bit less negativity—despite Wall Street being ten times as much a den of corruption as any casino, despite the fact that investment is no less gambling than putting money on blackjack, despite the fact that the criminals on Wall Street have ruined a hundred lives for every one ruined by a casino.

It's fascinating how so many Christians are willing to judge someone for playing cards for money—and then turn around and support a banker who charges usurious rates to the poor, or a financier who spends their day gambling on the markets with other people's money, for the Board of Elders.

April 11, 2012

In terms of "justifying" one's actions, I think of the lawyer who, "seeking to justify himself" tried to make Jesus get specific with who his neighbor was so that he could go and "love" his neighbor by the book. But Jesus, and Christianity throws out by-the-book living. the lawyer doesn't get a straight answer and is forced to live in that tension.

I am trying to live in that tension. I think there are plenty of good questions to ask about this strange career choice. I don't want to deflect those questions. Neither, however, do I want to rush into a black-and-white answer.

April 11, 2012

James, for what its worth, I would give pretty much the same answer if somebody had posted a similar article about those jobs, too. I don't really understand why you accuse people of "judging" when the blog post specifically asked for opinions about card counting.

April 11, 2012

David, how would you respond to the latter part of my comment above? Specifically, do you see your black jack playing as offering any service towards your neighbor? Many people have jobs, from artists to engineers to janitors to teachers, that don't need justification because the jobs are valuable in themselves. In one way or another, the artist, the engineer, the janitor and the teacher all serve others. Playing black jack as a job seems to lack that.

April 12, 2012


The best answer I can give you is that card counting gave my neighbor a more whole ME.

Whereas when I worked a depressing 9-5 previously, I was away from my family more. Card counting gave me certain work freedoms that afforded me more time with them....and ostensibly other "neighbors".

Also, card counting freed me in terms of setting my own work goals and redeemed my work habits with regards to a team/co-workers.

I would say this--being "excellent" at blackjack beget excellence in other areas of my life. I woke up to patterns of procrastination, laziness, and lack of vulnerability and started to change those patterns.

April 12, 2012

I totally understand what you are saying and I don't really blame or judge you for any choices you've made. I may have done the same thing in your situation. But I do want to point out that your entire response to me seemed like a bunch of justifications.

Marta L.
April 14, 2012

I know next to nothing about card-counting, but reading this account two facts jump out at me: it seems to involve a fair amount of deception, and (aside from the money earned) it doesn't seem to really contribute anything to human society. That alone makes me skeptical about whether it's a Christian-friendly activity. I feel very strongly that as children of God we have a call to repair the world, which means more than earning money or "gaming" the system.

To be fair, though, I think one could condemn other things, like many forms of banking, for similar reasons. And you can probably do good things with that money or with your exposure to other gamblers in the casino. So while I don't doubt it can serve some good purpose, I think to get to those good purposes a card-counter would have to treat card-counting as a means to an end. It doesn't sound like that was the approach here. If I'm right in that, I think I'd be hard-pressed to see card-counting as a suitably Christian vocation.

Elizabeth Anne Hamilton
April 18, 2012

There is nothing inherently wrong with gambling, as long as it doesn't become your God. If it becomes an addiction, leading you to ignore your duties as a spouse, parent or church goer, than there's a problem. If the card-counting requires you to engage in deception to do it, however, than that could be an issue. If you need anymore insights, I'll be at the penny slots.

Jessica Solomon
June 14, 2016

This is interesting on how some people can skate on the outskirts of what's right and wrong in the eyes of Christ. Since the Bible only speaks about the love of money, I suppose this can be that gray area but it also brings up all the other gray areas in the lives of self proclaimed Christians. Since majority of churches leave on room for black or white when it comes to the Bible, it kinda feels like you men are cherry picking on what is acceptable in the Christian community.

First, I'm not judging. I'm far from perfect and I struggle with my own problems with drug addiction, I'm also gay. Being a Christian with these things attached to me is proff that I'm only trying to understand this whole story.

Now that I have that out of the way, it brings me to my second thought... How does gambling bring any good in your lives? Besides getting rich fast, which it says in the Scripture and also encourages us to stay away from attempts to “get rich quick” (Proverbs 13:11; 23:5; Ecclesiastes 5:10). Gambling most definitely is focused on the love of money and undeniably tempts people with the promise of quick and easy riches.Since it can cause more damage than good by becoming addicted and gradually loving the fast cash (due to card counting) it seems like it's bound to open pandoras box. Its kinda making that first step on cracking the door open just enough for satin to walk in. An invention to bring chaos and havoc. YOU explained how some casinos started to treat you with this lavish lifesyle... any human, Christian or not, is subjected to all world temptations and all this seems is you allowing those to come in and test you.

Daily test in life are one thing, but allowing the and inviting them in is another. In fact, God encourages us to stay away from world things.

Since you're a man preaching the word of God, this is the only reason why I'm responding. You're the example setter for future generations and promoting this is really pushing it. If it's not about the money, why not just take your team and play at one another house? Why not start something that leaves all the cherry picking rules out of. Take the gray area away? Its coming more clear that it is about the money. If you can a prove of this than I'm not sure how you can justify other laws of God that are similar to gambling. The ones that are not so clear cut that are being spat down each week in church.

When you look at christ as a whole, and you began to learn who he was and still is, you began to learn that this behavior is not in his makeup and I can not imagine how anyone can say Jesus approves. This is so not like him and contradicts his word. This is a world temptation that now leaders are proclaiming it's okay.

Maybe stand back and really think about where this will lead. All it takes in one thing and one man to test the limits before people follow suit.

Gambling brings nothing to society and does not stand beside christ as a honest way of life, IMO.

I have so many problems but I know my problems are mine and I can't start to promote them as being acceptable in the eyes of our father. This is very sticky and good luck sir.

March 23, 2017

The earlier comment that investment is no different then gambling misses the point. Investment is in principle designed to finance institutions for creating whereas gambling has the same amount of wealth at the end as the start just with a differing distribution. That said I have no objection to gambling in moderation just like a lot of things in moderation. But some people cannot moderate.

Does that mean I condemn the writer for card-counting? Not really, I think it rather clever of him to be honest. It seems a little time-wasting to pursue it to that extent to me, and a little bit of heavy weather to make a theological point of justifying it. But the only thing wrong I see is that other people might be tempted to think they can get away with it and maybe the author would have been wiser to keep it to himself.

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