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October 8, 2011

What Happens in Vegas . . . with Christians?

A group of believers "fesses up" to playing the casinos in a fascinating documentary

A few years ago, the film 21, based on a true story, featured a small group of M.I.T. students who learned the art of "card counting" and took Vegas casinos for millions of dollars while playing the blackjack tables. It wasn't a great movie, but it was fascinating for its topic and pacing.

Fast forward a few years, and now another group of young people is doing the same thing. But they're not from M.I.T. They're Christians, and they call themselves "The Church Team," and they're also taking Vegas casinos -- and others -- for gobs of money, all because they've learned the science of counting cards.

Their story is told in the awesomely titled Holy Rollers, which claims to feature "the most well-funded blackjack team in America -- made up entirely of churchgoing Christians."

Sound shady? Perhaps unethical? You be the judge. They would argue that casinos are robbing people blind, especially folks who are addicted to gambling and/or can't afford it in the first place. They'd say that they're taking from the rich to put the money to better use -- feeding their families, tithing, and keeping the moolah out of the wrong hands.

"It doesn't seem like one of the most noble things a person can do in the world," one member of the team says in the film. "But at least we can liberate the money from the clutches of those who would use it for ill purposes, you know?"

The team includes not just laypeople, but pastors and worship leaders. The filmmakers were subtle and secretive, managing to get unprecedented footage inside casinos, showing the team at work -- and the casino operators who were always on the lookout for card counters, and then "inviting" them (sometimes politely, sometimes not) to leave.

One of the Church Team members, David Drury, was asked in an interview if he saw their work as a form of "social justice." Here's how he replied:

"The social justice side of things is hard to quantify. The first difficulty in this line of work is simply justifying to yourself how you are serving society by playing a game in a way that is largely frowned upon. We are raised in a society that values easily drawn pictures of 'service' that are easy to nail down but often don’t make no sense once you start asking hard questions. If you are a teacher, you bust your ass doing important work for no money. If you are good at dunking a basketball, you get paid millions to provide “entertainment” through the vehicle of a soul-sucking corporate structure. But at least you can draw those lines.

"For me, I decided I was able to provide for myself and my family, which was of first-level importance. I was in a work structure (players and managers) where I was valued, where my goals were honored and were mine to set (as opposed to goals in a corporate environment), and where I was excited to work towards the success of the whole team. I felt supported like I never had before in a career endeavor. [And] yes, liberation, justice, and a good old fashioned sticking-it-to-the-man. He is big and I often felt infinitesimally small. When you have a big losing night AND get kicked out, what have you achieved? I choose to believe that the road is long, and while I am on it I mostly limp along with dark glasses, banging my cane against the curb."

Holy Rollers is a compelling film that explores a world where the answers don't come easy, where there's lots of gray and little black-and-white. It's won awards at several film festivals, and it a provocative discussion starter. "People can't stop asking questions," Drury told CT. "The central paradox -- Christians taking money from casinos -- starts all sorts of conversations."

DVD pre-orders are being taken at the official site. Watch the trailer here:


If Christians shouldn't gamble we should all pull out of out of our 401k's and the stock market because its all high stake's gambling. We have an economy based on gambling. Any American preacher preaching against gambling is either economically ignorant or a hypocrite.

As someone who lives in Vegas, there are a TON of Christians who work in the Vegas resorts. They are not all "gambling people." in addition, many of them have been working in the hotel/computer/restaurant/casino industry before they were saved. Then that's all the work experience they really have. So they stay. There was a group that did card counting recently at the Wynn and the Nevada Gaming Commission came in and busted it all up. They had to give back all the winnings they made and over 15 dealers/pit bosses were fired on the spot. No questions asked. No investigation to see if the employees were even connected with the card counting or not. Just fired. So that's 15 families that were affected. Just wanted to share a bit on the other side of it. Yeah casinos are not the most honorable business, but I think this film idea just makes Christians look shady too.

Investing is not really gambling because the investor is purchasing something of value from someone who wants to sell that same valuable item. Think of a home being sold to an optimist by an owner who is a pessimist.

I think it funny that the man condemning gambling at the being of the movie is the late Gordan B Hinkley. He was the president of the Mormon church. The Mormon church has different beliefs than main stream Christians in a multitude of areas. Gambling happens to be something that the Mormon church leaders specifically oppose.

While the Bible may not literally say “thou shalt not gamble”, the reasoned understanding of the 10 commandments and scripture as a whole make it clear that gambling (regardless of motive) is sin. If you are a Christian and can’t see this, then a great place to start would be reading the Westminster Larger Catechism, which fully plumbs the depths of what the 10 commandments mean.

I will pray that God will open the eyes of those involved in this self-deception and bring them to repentance.

I live in southeastern Pennsylvania. There are buses that go from my city to Atlantic City where you pay your roundtrip fare and get a certain amount of free slot play, not redeemable for cash, like they used to let you. I don't think that's really gambling if I keep careful track to only "bet" what they give me (other prople's money, not my own) and not any of my winnings nor anything out of my own pocket.

The Bible simply does not say that we Christians can not gamble. Anyone who teaches gambling as a sin has to twist verses around to make them fit his or her already held beliefs. Why can't we Christians simply enjoy our Christian liberty and stop trying to make everything a sin?