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Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians (2011)
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Ben Crawford, Colin Jones
Holy Rollers follows the rise of arguably the largest and most well-funded blackjack team in America-made up entirely of churchgoing Christians. While they succeed in taking millions from casinos, how will they manage to find a place for faith and God in the arena of high stakes gambling?
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians (2011) | Review
Living in a Casino Culture
M. Scott Foster
Nearly every American is a gambler without ever playing the lottery, scratching a ticket, or tossing dice under Vegas' bright lights. Al Mohler was right. America is a casino culture. All the things that makes Sin City so appealing—lust, greed, adrenaline rush, pleasure, the illusion of no consequences—has come to define the American way of life. Vegas is merely a concentrated expression of what we live for day by day in small doses. That is why so many of even the most modest Americans aspire to make a pilgrimage to Vegas. People of faith can avoid our nation's Mecca but they can't avoid the culture it epitomizes. It is the air we breathe. God has called believers to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-15). I ask myself: What is a Christian to do?
I came face to face with this dilemma in the most extreme ways when I joined a card-counting team to pay the bills while I planted a church in Cincinnati, OH. The ups and downs of this mostly Christian team, labeled the "Church Team" by a non-believing friend of the founders, was documented in the recent film, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Christian Card-Counting. Hollywood Jesus' Brian Dedmon gave the documentary a fairly positive review in regards to the film's entertainment value. His read of the quality of the Christianity displayed in the film wasn't quite as generous. For example, Dedmon wrote, "This is a group of men so skewed in their theology that they have found justification for gambling, cheating, and lying." Though I disagree, I completely understand how someone could come to that conclusion. What follows then is loosely a response to Dedmon's criticisms and concerns. However, my main hope is that you would benefit from a few of the things I learned while playing on the Church Team as you seek to be salt and light in a fallen world.
My initial interest in card-counting came solely from the desire to rescue a friend from getting involved with what appeared to be an illegal get-rich-quick scheme. He had brought up his plan to join a blackjack team because he knew I was looking for some work that would fit my ministry schedule. He offered to put a word in for me. I thought he was insane.
At the time, I knew next to nothing about the seedy world of casinos. I didn't even know how to play poker (and I still don't). All my knowledge of casinos came from two things. First, while I was still in high school guys from my church, myself included, decided to pass out evangelism tracts at Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, IN. We were promptly kicked off the property and told never to return unless we wanted to be arrested. Second, I knew my father had struggled with a gambling problem and had even spent our rent money on slot machines a few times. Consequently, I wanted nothing to do with casinos. I declined my friend's offer and set out to persuade him it was wrong.
Legality was a major issue for me as it should be for all Christians. Romans 13:1 commands, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." Moreover, the house rules mattered because Scripture says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." I thought my friend would consider this a foolish decision if I could show him that card-counting violated these basic principles. Surprisingly, my research proved just the opposite. Card-counting was perfectly legal. It wasn't even against house rules. The casinos know that people love a beatable game but generally lack the discipline it takes to beat it. Why make a rule against something that is an effective marketing lure? Casinos, like all private establishments, do reserve the right to ask unwanted patrons to not play certain games or leave the premises. This works as an insurance policy if a disciplined card-counter does happen to slide some chips across the felt.
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