Recently, we discussed what occupations would be off-limits for Christians–that is to say, not a true calling from God, a.k.a. “vocation.” We talked a little about blackjack dealers. Well, what do you think about this, a group of card counters who give the money they win to “ministry”?
By day, Mark Treas leads worship and baptizes new believers. By night, he plays blackjack at Caesars Palace and other Vegas casinos.
It’s all in a day’s work for Treas, who calls himself a Christian card counter. He’s part of a highly successful team of professional blackjack players known as the Church Team. The group was composed of 90 percent active Christians, included pastors, worship leaders, and church planters.
At times, the team acted like any other fellowship group, gathering for quarterly meetings, keeping each other accountable, and encouraging each other to be lights in the dark casino environment. But they spent their nights in Las Vegas, winning more than $3 million in three years and getting kicked out of casinos across North America.
Colin Jones, the co-founder of the Church Team, said the group’s overarching goal was to use their activities as a platform for living out their faith: “The way we see the world, everything a Christian does is a ministry, whether you’re a plumber or a priest.”
But many question if card counting is compatible with a Christian worldview. Even the players themselves mention the gray areas and differing opinions about their work.
Card counting is a strategy in blackjack where the player mentally tracks what cards are played to calculate the probability of a certain hand. While not illegal, casinos consider the practice cheating and will ban players they catch beating their system.
Jones and Ben Crawford first picked up the basic techniques of card counting as a hobby, but when friends from church expressed interest, they created the Church Team as a business venture in 2006.
Using money from outside investors and their own bank accounts – some risking mortgages and life savings – the Church Team rolled in $3.2 million from 2006-2009, with investors making a 35 percent annual return on their money. The players were confident in the statistics behind card counting and compared playing blackjack to playing the stock market. . . .
Many players . . .[say] they hate the way casinos exploit people. Liberating money from casinos was an extra motivator, and one player said that he considered playing blackjack “a calling,” not a hustle.Jones also said that professional gambling can actually keep players from falling into gambling addictions. “Most addictions have everything to do with trying to escape reality. But when you’re a professional blackjack player, you’re not escaping reality at all. You’re exhausted after eight hours of sitting at a table using your mind to play.”
They also tried to hold each other accountable while working in an environment with a lot of temptations: “We felt that if people were falling into sin because of this job we’d shut the business down,” said Jones.
But as unhappy casinos continued to kick out the card counters, more “gray areas” arose.
Casinos have a business’s right to deny service to any customer, including card counters, and players sometimes disguised themselves to avoid detection by security. In the documentary, Crawford is seen donning a range of costumes, including an MIT professor and a black-lipped goth.
via Holy card shark | World on Campus: news for college students from a Christian perspective.. [Free subscription required]
This particular group has disbanded. Notice the attempt to invoke vocation (“everything a Christian does is a ministry, whether you’re a plumber or a priest”) without really understanding what that doctrine entails (plumbers and priests are masks of God in loving and serving their neighbors, but how is a card shark a mask of God and how is he loving and serving his neighbors who run the casinos?).
Which is worse, gambling or cheating at gambling? An honest blackjack dealer or a dishonest Christian player in a disguise? Gambling or a theologically problematic understanding of ministry?