They were ordinary folks: he a 59-year-old retired steelworker, she a night waitress in a cheap restaurant for 36 years. They lived in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, in their mobile home, enjoying the seashore and an occasional visit from their granddaughter, Michelle. Then, last July 22, they became celebrities: Nicholas and Marvein Jorich hit the jackpot in the Pennsylvania State Lottery and were more than $8.8 million richer.
“I’ve dreamed of this for 36 years!” exclaimed Mr. Jorich. (That’s how long he’s been married, and how long he worked in the steel mill.)
Of course, he won’t get all the money right away. After taxes, he’ll net about $336,000 a year for 21 years—if he lives that long. Still, the Jorichs’ bonanza has given a lot of other ordinary folks something to dream about. The lines are much longer now at the lottery windows throughout the state, and the Bureau of State Lotteries couldn’t be happier.
Lotteries are just part of the booming gambling industry. John Scarne, considered by many the world’s foremost authority on gambling, surveyed more than 100,000 people in this country and concluded that Americans bet a total of nearly $1 trillion annually. That’s one third of the gross national product!
Most of the money is wagered on sports, casino games, horse races, lotteries, and bingo, and the ratio of illegal to legal bets is about 7 to 1. With 60% of American adults involved in gambling, and with 80% of all Americans in favor of legalizing it, many states are knocking down any last barriers and getting in on the take by levying taxes and running lotteries or off-track betting parlors.
As I passed the corner lottery window the day after the Jorichs’ big hit, I noticed the long line and began to reflect on the effects of gambling and why devotees of Lord Krsna take a vow to give up all forms of it. The words of Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita came to mind: “Those who are too attracted to wealth and sense pleasure, and who are bewildered by these things, cannot have the resolute determination to attain self-realization.” As for wealth, the people on the lottery line didn’t seem to have much—they looked like middle- and lower-middle-class working people. And as for pleasures, I was sure theirs were run-of-the-mill. But they could dream. Millions of dollars falling into their laps and transforming their lives. And that dream was the problem.
Would $8.8 million save any of these hopelessly hopeful people from getting old? From getting sick? From dying? Would winning the jackpot release any of them from the laws of nature, which dictate that they, as spirit souls, must return again and again in body after body to fulfill their unfulfilled desires and suffer the results of their karma? Only self-realization and pure devotion to Krsna can do that, not hitting the “lucky” number. So in reality the odds against their dream coming true by winning big in the lottery aren’t one in several million, but zero in infinity.
For a devotee of Krsna, gambling is out of the question. Along with illicit sex, meat-eating, and intoxication, he rejects it at the time of formal initiation. He understands that it’s simply an impediment on the spiritual path. Gambling inflames greed and the desire to enjoy material pleasures, precisely the things a devotee wants to minimize so he can develop “resolute determination to attain self-realization.” Gambling also destroys truthfulness and straightforwardness, two essential qualities for a devotee, because it’s based on a network of lies and half-truths—that you can beat the odds, that the game is honest, and that if you win, the money will solve all your problems. Most important of all, gambling is a flagrant misuse of money, which all belongs to God and is meant to be used in His service.
Yet if I had told all this to the impatient people who stood in the lottery line that sweltering July 23, chances are none of them would have refrained from buying their tickets. Their only concern was the Big Dream, the multimillion-dollar jackpot in the sky. They didn’t know that while they were betting on a sure loser, the devotees already held the winning ticket: the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gita, the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, and the other aspects of Krsna consciousness that would one day qualify them to enter the spiritual world and enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in the company of their Lord.
Published in BTG 1983