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Inset photo: Jerry B. Jenkins
Photo illustration: Krieg Barrie; Jenkins: Handout
Inset photo: Jerry B. Jenkins

Not bluffing

Gambling | Moody board chairman and top author Jerry B. Jenkins is among Christians who have taken up tournament poker. Is evangelical opposition to it about to fold?

Issue: "Going it alone," Nov. 2, 2013

Writing 180 books over four decades keeps a man busy. Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the best-selling Left Behind novels and one of today’s busiest Christian authors, has sold over 70 million copies of his novels and nonfiction works. He has also co-authored several children’s adventure series and helped Billy Graham, Bill Gaither, and Luis Palau write autobiographies. A former vice president of publishing at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Jenkins now volunteers as chairman of the school’s board of trustees.

In recent years, Jenkins has also enjoyed playing poker, sometimes with friends in the privacy of his home, and sometimes in casino poker tournaments that require buy-ins of hundreds of dollars.

WORLD came across Jenkins’ name on GlobalPokerIndex.com, a website that compiles poker tournament results submitted by casinos and creates public profiles of players who cash in. When I called Jenkins to ask if the Global Poker Index profile was of him, he confirmed that it was.

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“I don’t play for what I would consider significant amounts of money. And I wouldn’t gamble, either. I mean, I don’t play slots,” he said. “I consider poker a skill game.”

According to the Global Poker Index data, Jenkins has won $8,065 at two casinos, including $4,580 at Commerce Casino near Los Angeles during the 2008 California State Poker Championship, where the buy-in was $1,500 (plus an $80 fee to the casino). He also had poker tournament winnings from 2010 and 2012 at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., a 30-minute drive from downtown Chicago. Global Poker Index does not list tournament losses, said Alexandre Dreyfus, the CEO of Zokay Entertainment, which operates the index. 

Jenkins claims his wins and losses have been about even overall: “I’m just a recreational player. … It’s not something I make money at or lose money at, really. … I realize that people have issue with it.”

The admission from Jenkins comes after the board of trustees he chairs established, in August, a new Moody employee policy that permits gambling, tobacco use, and the consumption of alcohol while off duty. Brian Regnerus, a spokesman for the school, said, “No Board member’s personal preference or activity had any impact on the decision to review the previous employee standards.”

Under the old policy, employees were supposed to eschew such activities even in private. The policy change came after a year of study and reflected a desire “to require no more and no less than what the Bible requires,” while leaving other issues to an individual’s conscience, said spokesman Regnerus. Both the policy change and Jenkins’ poker hobby suggest that—as toward smoking and drinking—evangelical attitudes may be softening toward a formerly frowned-upon or forbidden activity.

As an unpaid trustee, Jenkins is not required to submit to Moody’s employee guidelines. But Jenkins said the school expects trustees to be professing Christians and to “exhibit the biblical characteristics of an elder.”

Rules for Moody’s students are much stricter: They are not permitted to smoke, drink, or gamble, according to the school’s “Student Life Guide,” even while at home on Christmas and summer breaks. The school has 3,800 students, including distance learners and those on campuses in Chicago, Michigan, and Washington state. Asked whether Jenkins’ hobby might send a mixed message to students, Regnerus said the school expected students to recognize matters of Christian liberty, while abiding by rules meant to accommodate families and churches with stricter convictions.

“Moody is aware that Jerry Jenkins participates in poker, which is not prohibited in Scripture,” Regnerus said. He added the school does not have an official position that would clarify whether it considers poker to be gambling.

Jenkins began playing poker less than 10 years ago, and said that within the past year he had decided to play in Hammond no longer: “It’s too close to Chicago. I serve on the board of Moody, so I wouldn’t want to cause any embarrassment to anybody if they had a problem with that. … I live in Colorado, so if I play it’s outside the Midwest.”

Besides writing books, Jenkins owns Jenkins Entertainment, a filmmaking enterprise, and the Christian Writers Guild, a group that provides conferences, critiques, and long-distance writing courses for aspiring authors (I’m a former student). According to director Janice Mitchell, the Guild currently has 550 members.

Jenkins, 64, declined to state his income on the record, but said he is a “high-income person” and has enjoyed a few “pretty flush years with the Left Behind series. … You can do the math. I’ve sold 70 million books. So to break even making $8,000 playing poker, it’s kind of pocket change for me.” He gives most of his income away, he said.

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