Gerald R. Ford Leadership Forum

University Gambling

by Jeff Polet

Among the many temptations that undermine democratic citizenship, getting something for nothing would have to be near the top of the list. In America’s past debt crises, voices would emerge that would encourage citizens to engage in responsible economic activity, celebrating frugality and warning against the vice of luxuriousness. Aristotle regarded gambling as a “child of covetousness” that was an excess of desire for wealth. The good things in life could only be good if they were earned, the result of effort and hard work. The accumulation of money independent of productive labor, many of our Founders believed, would weaken our desire to work as well as corrupt our ability to see wealth as something common.

Profiteering off someone else’s labor is parasitical, and thus disrupts the sense of mutual dependence and cooperation required for a healthy society. Lotteries and other modes of gambling were certainly known to many of these writers of our founding generation, but were condemned in harsh terms and often forbidden by law. State-sponsored lotteries operate largely as a regressive tax on the poor, but also usually ruin the lives of jackpot winners. Try as we might, we can’t make people feel good about themselves or their lives when they get something for nothing. They will never feel that rightful sense of pride that accompanies doing work well for its own sake.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that our academic institutions, for all their talk about citizenship, are actively engaged in sabotaging the very society from which they draw their sustenance. Any sensible person (and I say this as a die-hard University of Michigan football fan) will wonder why a research university has a stadium that seats 100,000+ for gladiatorial contests on its campus … unless it’s to provide the medical school with specimens.

I’d like to say I was surprised by this New York Times story exposing how some state (!) universities have partnered with gambling giants such as Caesar’s in sponsorship deals that incentivize students and anyone else attending major sporting events to use their services. In some ways, this isn’t off-script as many universities market themselves on the premise that a college education is the surest means to wealth accumulation. For all their talk about citizenship, they are more committed to lucre.

At a time when mental health problems among college students are at all-time highs, one has to question the wisdom of adding one more potential and remarkably destructive pathology to the stew. Perhaps there’s some symmetry in the universities using the proceeds of this new arrangement to fund the gambling addiction services they will have to add to their already understaffed counseling offices.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the dangers involved with locating wealth in money? Where else might wealth be properly located?
  2. Are injunctions against hoarding wealth religious in nature, or might there be other sources that warn us against acquisition?
  3. Is it good for a person to get something for nothing?
  4. Should universities operate as moral gateways for the culture, or is it ok for them to simply reflect cultural trends? Are our universities largely captured by a certain notion of “the good” that involves acquisitiveness?


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1 thought on “University Gambling”

  1. Yeah, a modern rational against gambling! Thank you for the solid talking points anyone can use when engaging in conversations about lotteries. May your voice be given a clarion call in the forum of ideas!

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