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Gambling Is Good for Your Soul

by Daniel O’Rourke

As I write this we are still recovering from the publicity and hype of Super Bowl Sunday.  This year’s Super Bowl set a record as the most-watched television show in our history. An estimated 111.3 million watched. That’s more than ever viewed an inaugural address by a President of the United States.  Who said we Americans don’t have our priorities right!


The Super Bowl is also the busiest day of the year for sports gambling. Americans bet an estimated 70 million dollars just in Nevada that day. And the betting was not only on which team would win – or on the point spread.  Your could have side bets on just about anything like the numbers of penalties, the number of sacks against quarterbacks Brady or Manning, the color of Madonna’s hair at the halftime show or whether she would wear a microphone or headset, or how long it would take for Kelly Clarkson to sing the National Anthem. Believe it or not, thousands of people wagered millions on all that craziness.

For reluctant and ambivalent sports fans like me it was even more mind-blowing.  There was cross-sport betting.  How would the number of Eli Manning’s pass completions compare with LeBron James ’s points in a National Basketball Association game against Toronto? (For those who really, really care LeBron had 30 points; Manning had 28 completed passes.)

But I have a much more important point: if Americans are so prone to gambling, why are we so hesitant to take risks in our own lives?  After all risk-taking is a gamble, and we will accomplish little if we avoid gambles -- in our personal lives, in our work lives, in our relationships. In all these there is always uncertainty. We will always have some doubts; we can’t see the future clearly.  Samuel Johnson, the English poet and essayist told us, "Nothing . . . will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome”

Why do we hesitate? Are we afraid of failure? I think so, yet as Harry Potter author JK Rowling tells us,  "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all."  Or from another century and another culture, the American teacher and reformer Amos Bronson Alcott: "We mount to heaven mostly on the ruins of our cherished schemes, finding our failures were successes."  We should not let fear of failure hold us back. Failures can be stepping-stones to great achievements. 

But enough about failure, back to gambling, chance and risk-taking, for God’s sake take some chances!  The irreverent author Tom Robbins prods us,  "Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature." Think Steve Jobs at Apple, or Mark Zukerberg and Facebook. All of us at times should be playful, rebellious and adolescent.  Like a child persisting in riding his two-wheeler without training wheels, or a widow daring to date again. That’s risk-taking -- and the rewards can be empowering and breathtaking.

Finally, Neil Simon reminds us, "If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor."  Amen, Neil, Amen.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York.  His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month.   A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest.  His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website

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