The following disgusting paragraph is from a 2001 news bulletin that I found on the Internet:
“Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Muslim ultra-fundamentalist Taliban government continued its warBob Ciaffone is one of America’s best-known poker players, writers, and teachers. He has numerous poker tournament wins and placings, the most prominent being third place in the 1987 World Championship. He has been a poker teacher since 1995, with his students having earned well over a million dollars in tournament play. Bob's website is www.pokercoach.us
on everything it considers un-Islamic. It outlawed the importation of playing cards, musical instruments, fireworks, lipstick, nail polish, chess boards, and two dozen other items. Border guards were ordered to seize banned material and hand it over to the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”
As you can see, some people are not only anti-gambling, but against the playing of all games. If you have been following my columns on South Carolina laws against game playing, you see that such an attitude still has some effect on today’s laws, because some laws that we have to live by in modern society have never been substantially changed since they were passed centuries ago. I call them “Taliban-like laws” when I write about them, but the origin of these laws comes to us not from a twisted branch of Islam, but from medieval Britain. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons why such laws were sometimes used in British society.
A deck of cards was not always used for playing card games. Before there were playing cards, there were cards such as tarot cards, which were used for telling the future, especially in pagan societies. Such a use was often considered heretical, and related to witchcraft. The cards themselves were considered by many to be tools of the devil. This taint sometimes carried over to a deck of regular playing cards, especially since there was a stronger correlation between card playing and gambling than exists today. Dice also were used mainly as a gambling device, as games that are for children or families, such as Monopoly and Parcheesi, were of course not yet invented. We see a hangover from medieval morality and religious attitudes in certain state laws that single out games played with these “tools of the devil” (cards and dice) as being not allowed.
Do not think medieval Britain singled out games played only for money as being forbidden by law. A 1541 statute promulgated by Henry VIII “… authorized peace officers to arrest persons playing ‘unlawful games’ like bowling, tennis, dice, and cards, and for good measure extended the authority beyond players to include persons ‘haunting’ the ‘houses, places and alleys where such games shall be suspected to be holden, exercised, used or occupied.’” (This quote was actually taken from a portion of Justice Scalia’s opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court case Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, decided in 2001, in which he showed the derivation of certain English common-law principles. That case did not involve gambling.)
One can understand the anti-gambling attitude of Henry VIII; he was a big loser in gambling games, especially backgammon, and so was his wife of that time, Anne Boleyn (his second of eight wives), a backgammon addict who owed a lot of money from gambling losses. Henry paid her debts, but beheaded her shortly thereafter. I guess you could call him a sore loser.
It is easy to understand Henry’s anti-gambling attitudes, but why did he prohibit games like bowling and tennis? There are a couple of reasons. One historian wrote, “These games, as before observed, were not forbidden from any particular evil tendency in themselves, but because they engrossed too much of the leisure and attention of the populace, and diverted their minds from the pursuits of a more martial nature.”
My mother used to tell me, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” In other words, leisure time could get you into mischief. Perhaps she was trying to keep me out of more serious mischief when she taught me how to play poker at the age of 9. At any rate, the Puritans and others had a work ethic that covered the entire 24 hours. (My feelings come closer to, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”) As we know, morality often gets enacted into law — especially by people of the Puritan mentality.
The martial arts part of the reasoning was not originally conjured up by Henry VIII. One piece of info I found on the Internet was this: “In 1388, Richard II secured the passage of a statute requiring people to buy items necessary for the martial arts, and stop spending money on football, casting stone, and other such importune games.” The weapon of choice for the English was the longbow, and practice with it was considered patriotic. Sports other than archery detracted from defense of the nation. Laws encouraging archery were enacted partly in response to petitions from the bowyers, fletchers, stringers, and arrowhead makers (the military lobby of the pre-gunpowder era).
In some previous columns, I chastised the state of South Carolina for having old and poorly worded gambling laws. Now I will offer you a direct comparison between a South Carolina law used in 2005 to prosecute poker players and a law passed in 1657 by the English king Charles II. The 1657 law stated:
“If any person or persons at any time after the first day of August which shall be in the year of our Lord, one thousand six hundred fifty seven, shall by playing at cards, dice, tables, tennis, bowls or shovel-board, cock-fighting, or by horse races or any game or games, or by bearing any part in the adventure, or by betting on the sides or hands of such as do or shall play as aforesaid — directly or indirectly, win or gain unto him or themselves any sum or sums of money or other thing valuable whatsoever, that then every person or persons so winning or gaining as aforesaid shall forfeit double the sum or value so won or gained.”
The South Carolina law reads:
“If any person shall play at any tavern, inn, store for the retailing of spirituous liquors or in any house used as a place of gaming, barn, kitchen, stable or other outhouse, street, highway, open wood, race field or open place at (a) any game with cards or dice, (b) any gaming table, commonly called A, B, C, or E, O, or any gaming table known or distinguished by any other letters or by any figures, (c) any roley-poley table, (d) rouge et noir, (e) any faro bank, (f) any other table or bank of the same or the like kind under any denomination whatsoever or (g) any machine or device licensed pursuant to Section 12-21-2720 and used for gambling purposes, except the games of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist when there is no betting on any such game of billiards, bowls, backgammon, chess, draughts, or whist or shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do game, upon being convicted thereof, before any magistrate, shall be imprisoned for a period of not over thirty days or fined not over one hundred dollars, and every person so keeping such tavern, inn, retail store, public place, or house used as a place for gaming or such other house shall, upon being convicted thereof, upon indictment, be imprisoned for a period not exceeding twelve months and forfeit a sum not exceeding two thousand dollars, for each and every offense.”
Now you know how some of the horrible grammar appeared in the South Carolina law. For example, the ugly phrase, “shall bet on the sides or hands of such as do,” is almost identically worded in both laws. Can you imagine getting stuck for a fine or jail time in the 21st century under statutes like this?
If such activities as tennis and golf detract from the defense of the nation, what about the activities that detract from the worship of the Lord? The Sabbath is a day the modern person thinks of as perhaps a time to visit one’s place of worship, but later on, spend some time with the family doing things like watching sports on the tube. But in olden times, you had to watch your step. For example, in 1803, two South Carolina counties complained to the state government that the laws protecting the Sabbath were being violated — by people fishing in the Catawba River! That is essentially the same statute that game players can be prosecuted under in the 21st century for playing games with cards or dice on the Sabbath in their homes. Of course, the South Carolina Sabbath statute is nowadays enforced only against evil and sacrilegious people such as poker players.