The Web of Gambling

Francesco Occhetta, SJ

 Francesco Occhetta, SJ / People / 10 October 2019

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The expression “hazard a bet” is a term used by gamblers that derives from the Arabic word al-zahr (“dice”). These instruments of fortune exemplify the desire to enrich oneself without making sacrifices. The first public places for organized gambling in the Middle Ages sprang up in secluded locations, far from squares and churches, managed by so-called “dealers.”[1] The locales of these particular games have always been thought of as webs woven by powerful “spiders” to trap their prey. In The Gambler, Dostoevsky describes Alexey’s human drama after playing: “The player is a victim regardless of his social class, a victim who becomes an executioner for others and for himself.”

In the history of gambling, the “what,” the “how” and the “where” reveal the relationship between politics and the gaming industry, between culture and the values of a society. For this reason Frederick II had forbidden the players and managers of games of chance to testify in a trial or hold administrative positions. Only with the beginning of the Renaissance was gambling recognized as a right, allowing the governors of Italian municipalities to apply the “gabelle,” a tax on gambling.

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