October 8, 2011
What Happens in Vegas . . . with Christians?
A group of believers "fesses up" to playing the casinos in a fascinating documentary
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: