The Addicted Gambler

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Gambling, Winning, Riches by Magic, by Taking a Chance


From time immemorial men have gambled.  We can read about it in the autobiography of the great Yiddish (Jewish) writer Sholem Aleichem (Sholom Rabinowitz). In the impoverished village of Pereyaslav, a small Eastern European “shtetl,” a seller of chances came regularly to peddle his tickets.  There was constantly the hope of becoming rich, but somehow it did not happen.  There was always hope, and that in itself created happy anticipation.  But how sad when the buyers found they lost, or even owed more to the seller, that ate up their occasional minute winnings.  Gambling is motivated by an unrealistic dream of becoming rich and famous, and being the envy of their neighbors and friends, without having to expend any physical or mental effort.  There is the possibility of being able to give help to loved ones, which otherwise is impossible.  There is anticipation of what might happen, and the happiness and pleasure that would be gained as a result of “taking a chance.”

Gambling is often the last bastion of hope of becoming somebody, of counting, of being able to buy all the good things one desires; of not having to achieve, to work, to have luck happen with little or no effort.

For some, occasional gambling can be a hobby, a way of anticipating a possible surprise, a way for some winnings that can pay for some little pleasure that the gambler has been yearning for and could not afford easily.  It can in moderation be a hobby like playing cards, attending movies, shopping,  in short, an activity.  As long as it is done with caution and with an amount of cash that is not needed for the essentials and with good fun and extreme moderation, it does no harm.  It is the excessive habit of this “sport” which can cause monumental problems and harm.  It is the addicted gambler that is the loser.  It is well known that the only definite winners are the owners of the casinos or the betting parlors, of the providers of the countless “opportunities” to engage in the “game of gambling.” 

Gambling can begin during the teen years. It can be a betting game when the player is sure he or she will win.  The individual thus engaged has the firm belief that he (she) will win.  It makes him feel important and knowledgeable.  It gives him a feeling of superiority.  He does of course not play with the thought of losing.  The excitement around the experience can be exhilarating.  There is always the opportunity to try and try again.  The possibility of winning is so alluring that repetitious behaviors may follow. 

The urge to win can be seen from the poorest to the less poor, and can be spotted in a corner store where the patrons have barely enough money for a cup of coffee.  They take their last change and buy a lottery ticket to attempt to win the “Grand Prize.”  The thought of that takes them to Nirvana, where they will purchase the biggest, most prestigious car, in which they will be the envy of their impoverished neighbors.  If the person thus involved earns a few dollars he will surely reinvest them in more tickets and more possibilities.

There is the addicted gambler who cannot stop.  He has been known to borrow money and be persecuted by criminals who lend and who menace and threaten his life and have gone so far as to annihilate the individual who cannot possibly return what he owes. 

There is the addicted gambler, who is in such debt and in such a dilemma with his family and others that suicide is the last action that he takes to get out of his self induced difficulty.

To the educated citizen, excessive gambling is not a choice, and is decidedly not for the Jewish person.  He thinks of the outcome of this “sport” and the dire consequences that are the result of this addiction.  Excessive behavior is not healthy, and gambling along with alcoholism are not acceptable in the life of a thinking human being, and especially not in our Jewish ethics and lives.  We must always be on guard with “Was davon kann kommen” (what the outcome will be).


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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