The Gambling Act (2005) came into force in September last year, and today we are seeing one of its more overt results. For the first time betting shops in England and Wales are allowed to open for business on Good Friday. Even though there is no horse-racing taking place today (the main business for betting shops in the UK), even so, customers of this “modern leisure industry” will be able to bet on forthcoming events, today’s football matches, horse-racing abroad and use the gambling machines in the shops. All in all, a triumph for a modern, go-ahead industry. Oh, and did I mention, how “modern” gambling is today?
The emphasis on modernity was unsubtly rammed home by a speaker for Ladbrokes in an interview on Radio 4 this morning. When asked about religious objections to Good Friday opening, the speaker generously allowed everybody the right to their opinions, but such moralising has no place in a (yes, you guessed it) modern go-ahead leisure industry.
I am grateful to Mr Ladbroke for his generous nod towards a multi-moral society, but I think he’s wrong. Not in wanting his shops to be open on Good Friday, no. I don’t have a problem with gambling on Good Friday. My disagreement with him is his assertion that this is a modern go-ahead industry.
I think that betting shops should be open on Good Friday. I think it is the one day of the year on which gambling should be forced to happen. I think that gambling and Good Friday are inextricably linked. After all, what does John record happening at the foot of the cross, as the crucified Jesus begins his slow agonising descent into suffocation and death?
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
And that is what the soldiers did. (John 19:23-25)
For hundreds of years, when Christians wanted to meditate on the passion of Jesus they would use depictions of the instruments of the passion: the cross, the nails, the whip, the crown of thorns, and, yes, the dice used by the Roman soldiers in gambling for the dying man’s clothes.
Gambling and Good Friday go together, and have always gone together. For those of use who don’t gamble, for those of us who will be attending church rather than the bookie’s today, it is good to remember that the Lamentation of Jeremiah means as much today as it did in the prophet’s own times:
Does it mean nothing to you, all ye who pass by?