Acton Institute Powerblog

Give Temperance a Chance

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Just about every state has dealt with the issue over the last few years, it seems. But here in Ohio, the legal status of gambling is the issue that won’t go away. It’s on the ballot again in November, this time as a constitutional amendment to permit casinos in four cities.

The issue is something of a dilemma for Christians with limited-government inclinations. In general we don’t want prohibitions on legitimate business activity or entertainment, and most Christians don’t consider games of chance to be inherently immoral. Yet the societal repercussions of Big Gaming don’t appear very attractive from any angle. For one, as Acton’s Jordan Ballor pointed out in his treatment of the subject a few years back, revenue from lotteries and other gambling represents an all-too-easy source of funds for expansive state governments. Even more serious, as a recent analysis by Fr. John Flynn on Zenit underlines, gambling often amounts to a regressive tax on the poor, who tend to throw away a much higher proportion of their incomes in this fashion than do the better off.

In any case, it appears that widespread legalized gambling is here to stay. So what now? Fr. Flynn has one important answer: a return to the classic virtue of temperance, “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.” (It was given sort of a bad name in the US in the early twentieth century when the “temperance movement” became the “Prohibition movement” and enacted the ill-fated 18th amendment, but there’s nothing puritanical about temperance.)

I’ve noted in other contexts the importance of temperance: for example, the implications to health care of moderation in food, drink, physical activity, etc. Its relevance for gambling is self-evident. And of course there’s consumerism, the mortgage crisis, and financial speculation. So, pastors, writers, teachers: we’re long overdue for some sermons, commentaries, and lessons on the contemporary indispensability of that ancient virtue, temperance.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Dagwood

    I think it is time to bring casinos to Ohio. It’s an important revenue stream for government and an engine for economic development. Look at Lawrenceburg, Indiana! It is in the state’s interest, in the interest of business development and it’s fun! No one is being forced to gamble away their life savings! and often times state issues like this help fund assistance with problem gambling!

  • Dr.D

    Casinos are a moral corruption that never enhance any community. While they bring money, they also bring bad attitudes that infect the community and lower the morality of the community forever. They should be opposed by every Christian.

    Look at what they teach about stewardship. Is it ever good stewardship to simply go throw money away? Is it ever?

    Look at what they teach about the way to make money. They teach that it is proper to at least try to make money by pure chance, rather than to plan to make money by honest effort. Is this a Godly teaching? Of course not.

    The foster the immoral attitude that “entertainment” is very important, whereas what is really important is putting in an honest day’s work and then returning home to the family for the evening with them.

    Casinos are nothing but corruption, (im)pure and simple.

  • homesower

    And when every major city in the country has a casino, will we be richer? Will our governments be well-funded. Will we be a better people?

    The casinos create no value. They can bring money in from elsewhere, but not if every state is doing it. They are just a means for moving money around but one with limited utility. Granted some find them entertaining, but this is balanced by the loss they fell when they return home to an empty bank account.

    Government got into the business of limiting gambling because it was considered immoral. That is the only real reason to limit gambling. If we re-evaluate our stand on gambling and decide it is moral, then the government should end its prohibition.

    That is not what is on the ballot in Ohio. The question is should the state grant a monopoly on gambling to allow casinos in 4 cities. Every gambling prohibition now on the books will remain on the books, so evidently the official position of the state is that it is still immoral except when there are economic and tax advantages, in which case the government will become the enforcer for the casinos and keep out all competition.