The Matching $3000 from Caesar’s SportsBook– A Halachic Analysis

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

Yes, it seems that it is one of those things that go around, that actually does bring in significant money.   But the halachic and hashkafic issues that are possibly involved may be dividing a number of people.  But let’s start at the beginning,

Gambling online is now legal in New York State.  There is a website, owned by Caesar’s Palace, that is offering $3000 or so, if you open an account and deposit a like amount in the account.  So what is the method of making money that is going around?  The WhatsApps and voicenotes are telling everyone to do it and find a friend to do the same thing.  Then both of you bet on opposite sides of a sportsgame where the odds are pretty much the same.  The two of you will be able to split $6000 by doing so.

IS IT LEGAL?

It seems that it is legal, according to New York State law.  Is it permitted according to the bylaws of the company offering the deal?  It is not.  We, therefore, have here an offer and acceptance, and a violation of the “terms and conditions” in the small print.

What are the implications of this?  A lawyer informed this author that it is considered to be a breach of contract.  Thus, legally, if the gambling company were to pursue a civil case – they would have to “make the other whole.”

IS IT HALACHICALLY PERMITTED?

There are at least two issues here.  The first is the gnaivas daas involved in going into the deal where one knowingly violated the terms and conditions.  If one were to argue that he did not violate the terms and conditions knowingly – the Rashba (Rashba 1:629; 5:228)writes that whatever one signs is considered knowingly and the halacha is in accordance with this  Rashba (See CM 68:2) and Rama EH 66:13).

The prohibition of Gneivas Daas is a clear out and out prohibition according to all opinions. According to the Sefer Yereim and the Ritvah it is a biblical prohibition. According to the SMaK the prohibition is derabanan. But all hold that it is a full blown prohibition.

The second issue has to do with gambling.  The Mishna in Sanhedrin 24b lists those that are pasul in testimony, and one of them is “mesachaik bakubia – a gambler.” The Gemorah records a debate between Rami Bar Chama and Rav Shaishes as to what exactly is the violation.  Rami Bar Chama says that it is an asmachta and the person betting doesn’t really think that he will lose the money, so when the winner collects – he is essentially stealing.

Rav Shaishes, on the other hand, states that there is no problem of asmachta.  Rather the problem in the Mishna is that they are not engaging in the settling of the world – they are not being productive in their livelihoods.  The difference between them is when they have another livelihood.

There is an apparent contradiction in the Rambam as to who the halacha is in accordance with, and the Ramah in CM 307:15 cites three different Rishonim as to how exactly to understand Rav Shaishes’ position.

RAV ELYASHIV’S RULING

In the latest volume of Ashrei haIsh p. 172, compiled by Rabbi Yechezkel Feinhandler, Rav Elyashiv zt”l rules that gambling is permitted because a] they are not betting for a living and b] they had all put the money aside in one pot prior to the bet. That being the case, there would be no problem of Asmachta.

Rav Feinhandler notes, however, that in the work entitled, “Sim Shalom” [p.73] where Rav Elyashiv’s view was first cited – there is a footnote [#46] that the lenient ruling of betting only applies to those who follow the rulings of the Ramah – but to those who follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch – the bet would actually be forbidden.

WHY ARE THEY DOING IT?

Caesar’s SportsBook seems to be offering the deal in order to get people hooked on gambling so that they can make significant money.  There is no question that the website is giving away this money for the purpose of gaining new customers.  They have calculated that it is well worth the “investment.”

LIFNEI IVER

In the Talmudic texts that deal with the concept of lifnei iver, there is an apparent contradiction. Depending upon how we resolve the apparent contradiction, we will gain insight into the parameters and guidelines of lifnei Iver.

There is a concept known in halachah as teliyah — that whenever it is possible to assume a permitted purpose, even if that possibility is statistically or factually dubious, we do so.

The Gemara in Nedarim 62a tells us that Rav Ashi had an avah, a forest, that he sold to an avodah zara fire temple. When asked about lifnei iver, he responded that most of the wood would be for ordinary heating and not avodah zara. The Ran explains that it is permitted because of teliyah. The Ran’s view is cited by the Taz in Y.D. 151. The Chasam Sofer in a responsum (Y.D. #9) fully explains this idea.

However, there are other passages in the Gemara that indicate that there is a prohibition of lifnei iver whenever a strong likelihood of a violation exists. In Bava Metzia 75b, we see that it is a violation of lifnei iver to loan money when there are no witnesses. There is also such an indication from Bava Metzia 5b.

Three Approaches to Resolution

One approach to resolving the contradiction is that whenever there is a greater probability of a violation than a non-violation, then we do not assume a permitted purpose, and there is no lifnei iver. This is the approach of the HaGaos Tosfos Anshei Shem in Mishnayos Shviis 5:7 and the TaZ in Y.D. 151. This is also the approach of Rav Zilberstein in the above case of the suspecting mother-in-law.

Another approach is that the Talmudic cases that forbid it when the likelihood of a violation is stronger are only a rabbinic lifnei iver (see Tzitz Eliezer Vol. IV 5:3). [This would create an additional leniency, in case of a doubt, as we are more lenient on rabbinic lifnei iver than biblical lifnei iver.]

Rav Dovid’s Approach

Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’l, related his approach to resolving the contradiction. He explained that if the action being performed will directly lead to a violation on the part of the recipient, and without it the recipient would not have had the desire to violate halachah, then it is a violation of lifnei iver. Rav Feinstein’s view is recorded in this author’s sefer on lifnei iver titled “Misguiding the Perplexed” on page 97. [It is also a possibility offered by the Tzitz Eliezer as well.]

It is this author’s opinion that according to this third view, the entire enterprise could very well be a violation of Lifnei Iver.  And this easy method to win $3000 dollars introduced him to the horrors of gambling.

How so?  No one is immune to the allures of addictive behaviors and gambling is certainly addictive.  According to a number of articles (see, for example, Psychol Med. 2008;38(9):1351–60) approximately 1 percent of the adult population in the United States has a severe gambling problem. The most recent research (see fact sheet at NCRG.org) estimates that 6 to 9 percent of young people and young adults experience problems related to gambling — a higher rate than among adults.

And this is not just in the United States.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of people, even in our community, who have a gambling addiction.  The addiction has caused these gamblers to lose their homes, to lose their wives, and to lose their children.  Why should peers and friends be introduced to this possibility?

A friend suggested perhaps that it might be permitted for someone who knows that he can contain any yetzer harah he would have for gambling.  But is this really true?  The Gemorahm citing the example of Yochanan Kohain Gadol,  tells us not to trust ourselves until the day we die.  Do we allow the lure of money ruin the lives of other members of Klal Yisroel?

The Mitzvah of v’ahavya larayacha kamocha demands that we look at all members of Klal Yisroel like our own brothers.  From a statistical perspective, there is at least a 3 percent chance of fellow members of Klal Yisroel falling horribly into the abyss.  It should be stopped.

The author can be reached at [email protected]