Gambling for writers and writing for gamblers

I was talking to a couple of Muslim friends the other day about Islamic restrictions on food and behavior. First, I asked one to explain what makes meat halal (permitted) for Muslims. He made sure I understood that pork was never allowed, and that there were no restrictions on seafood. Since his English is still rudimentary, he struggled to explain what made beef and lamb halal, then finally resorted to making a slashing motion across his throat and making a “ckkkkkk” sound. Which was clear enough, though it occurred to me that this explanation would result in a 15-yard penalty in the NFL.

Then we talked about Islamic prohibitions against gambling. (For some reason many of my conversations end up as gambling discussions. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. (Nothing to see here….move off the corner, Johnny.) They told me that gambling is haram (forbidden) because the winner “doesn’t deserve” the money, having acquired it without working.

Some of my non-Catholic friends belong to Christian traditions that also frown on gambling. They’ve explained to me that they consider it a waste of God-given resources, or that they consider a gambler to have the same motivation as a thief; that is. to get money by way of deceit.

I’m not arguing against anybody’s religious beliefs here, just trying to understand the rationale. For me, gambling has always been more about the competition than the money. Which is why slot machines don’t interest me. In poker and sportsbetting, you’re usually rewarded for making good decisions. I love the feeling of having figured out a team’s value or what cards an opponent’s holding. It’s not unlike solving a crossword puzzle. Sometimes luck enters into it, but that’s true with all games and sports.


I can’t say winning money isn’t a part of the thrill; otherwise, I wouldn’t like craps so much. And I confess that playing online poker with free chips generally bores me. (Though the lack of value to focus my mind is only part of the problem there. It also causes people to play recklessly, like they don’t care about the outcome. Which reduces any enjoyment of the competitiveness aspect.)

I’m well aware of the social cost of compulsive gambling. I know it’s destroyed families and ruined lives. But one could point to a lot of innocuous activities that have done the same thing when there is a lack of moderation and balance.


It’s been a long time since I wrote any fiction (insert cynical journalism joke here), but my publisher is having a 24-hour short story contest this weekend. They announce the theme at noon on Saturday and the story is due by the same time on Sunday. I’m used to cobbling together short narratives under pressure. When I was covering minor league baseball, I had to have the story mostly written by the end of the game since my deadline was usually 30 minutes after the last pitch.

If I was lucky, there was no late-inning rally that would force a re-write. After the final out, I’d hustle down to the clubhouse and stand outside the door, waiting for expiration of the league-mandated ten minute “cooling off” period. (Sometimes I cheated when the game ran long. It wasn’t usually a big deal if I was interviewing players on the winning team; if not, I had to step a bit more lightly.) Then I’d enter the clubhouse and try to quickly find a player who’d affected the outcome.


Unless he’d had a good game, the player would invariably hide in the training room, off-limits to the press. Nervously checking the time, I’d then try to develop alternate questions for another player, and then go try to get the manager to say something interesting. Something other than a) “we just got/didn’t get timely hits”, b) “our pitchers were locating/not locating the fastball”, or c) “I was pleased with the effort”.

I’d then run up to the press box, taking stairs two at a time (the elevator was too slow), type in the quotes, scan the story quickly for obvious errors, and send it. One time on my drive home from the ballpark, I suddenly realized that the whole point of my lead – that a left-handed pitcher had dominated a right-handed lineup – was wrong. Because the pitcher was right-handed. Luckily, that was a day game, so I had time to call the editor, kill the story and re-write it.

So I’m used to writing with strict time limits, but, being fiction, this will be different. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and if I think my story is any good (or if I run out of blog ideas) I’ll post it here. If you’re a writer (or, I guess, even if you’re not) and want to submit an entry, you can enter at for $5. There are cash prizes for the winners, so it’ll be easier to focus. Just like if you were gambling.  


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