Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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What About Winning the Lotto?
By Vyenkata Bhatta Dasa   |  Nov 30, 2007

Timothy Elliot’s good luck may have just run out.

The 55 year old scratched a Massachusetts state lottery scratch ticket and discovered that he’d won a hefty$1 million lottery prize. But it turns out that Elliott is a convicted bank robber and the terms of his probation quite specifically rain on his parade: he"may not gamble, purchase lottery tickets, or visit an establishment where gaming is conducted…"

Elliot’s fate — and the fate of his new-found wealth — will be determined by a court hearing later this month.

Can’t a convicted armed robber with a lucky scratching thumb catch a break these days? In Elliot’s defense, the "thou shalt not scratch tickets"clause was probably written in a very small font on the bottom of a very long piece of paper filled with all sorts of other meaningless little tips on living a crime-free life. And furthermore, shouldn’t we encourage the new leaf that Elliot has obviously turned over? After all, winning money is way better than stealing it, even if it is not quite as noble as earning it.

Besides, gambling is such an ugly word. It is desperate, perspiring men wearing bad suits losing it all in seedy Las Vegas casinos. It is crack-peddling thugs on city stoops passing the time when they’re not out shooting people or signing hip-hop record deals. It is pro-football’s fallen angel Michael Vick padding his pockets by getting Snoopy and Clifford to step into the ring. It’s not something as, well, innocent as scratching away that one-in-a-million-chance lottery ticket. It can’t be; because if it is then all of us are in the same boat as the bad suits, the thugs, and the NFL misfits.

Almost all of us.

Many Krishna devotees willingly accept formal vows of commitment; they promise that along with faithfully pursuing their spiritual practices, they will avoid4 specific activities that hinder, rather than support, spiritual growth. These are: meat-eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling. The four are singled out because they are believed to especially erode essential principles of religion: compassion, austerity, cleanliness, and truthfulness.

With all four of these regulative prohibitions (which are, incidentally, called"the 4 regs" in Hare Krishna slang), there are more than a few shades of grey. Somehow that fourth one manages to be greyest of all.

Some devotees read "no gambling" narrowly: stay out of the casinos,avoid the horse races, and make sure card-games don’t get wilder than go-fish played for bragging rights. Devotees who choose this interpretation are likely to find this the easiest reg to follow.

On the other end of the spectrum, some devotees read "no gambling" to include a whole host of mundane behavior: from playing sports and board games,to watching non-devotional movies (except when absolutely forced to on airplanes), to that new-found Sudoku obsession. Devotees who choose this interpretation swear that this is the easiest reg to break.

Lottery tickets, including Elliot’s preferred scratching variety, are a bit easier to diagnose. Both schools would probably agree that they are off-limits– especially if bought expressly with a desire to win big.

But what about the hypothetical case where a devotee slips and buys a ticket anyway, or is gifted a lottery ticket, or chips in to an office pool as a matter of obligation… and it turns up a winner? Is she entitled to keep the earnings, rationalizing that the money may just be some long-owed good karma? Could she "purify" the cash by putting some (or all) of it in the donation box of her local ISKCON temple? And when does this whole thing make the slope dangerously slippery?

Fortunately for the state of Massachusetts, and unfortunately for Elliot, the issues facing the court in his case are not nearly as ambiguous. The probation terms made it plain that lottery tickets were off limits, and it would be unjust for Elliot to benefit so lucratively from breaking such explicitly stated rules. The money is most likely headed back to the State coffers, leading some to conclude that the government may be as much of a bandit as Elliot was.

Of course, what this may mean is that next month’s jackpot will be $1 million larger and that much more tempting. Convicted felons and Hare Krishnas need not apply.

Read Elliot’s story here.

Tag: gambling