Games of Chance: Innocuous Pastime or Illicit Activity?
NEW YORK, 2 FEB. 2002 (ZENIT).
The Church speaking out against gambling could seem contradictory.
After all, many Catholic charities raise funds by selling lottery
tickets, and parish bingo nights are common in many areas.
Laws on gambling have been relaxed in recent years, and the amount of
money dedicated to this activity is spiraling upward. Toward the end of
2001, the state of New York passed legislation authorizing six new
Indian-run casinos; video slot machines at racecourses; and the
The reasons behind the measure are no secret. Officials hope to gain as
much as $1 billion in annual revenues within three years, the New York
Times reported Oct. 25. Nationwide, more than 200 Indian casinos have
started up in the last decade, the Times noted Dec. 17. The two most
successful, in Connecticut, have an estimated combined revenue of $1.9
billion a year.
A Nov. 29 editorial in the Times criticized the extension of gambling,
saying that the social costs will outweigh any economic benefits.
Casinos lead to an increase in crime, suicide, bankruptcies and
divorces, noted the editorial.
In Australia, meanwhile, profits from the nation's 13 casinos rose by
$A537 million ($273 million U.S.) in the financial year 2000-01, to
above $A3 billion ($1.52 billion U.S.) for the first time. If gambling
losses in the last year were spread evenly, every adult Australian lost
$A71 on poker and gaming machines and $A59 on gaming tables (about $36
and $30, respectively, in U.S. dollars), the Sydney Morning Herald
reported Dec. 8.
Casinos are not the only place where people can gamble in Australia. In
the most populous state, New South Wales, last year clubs and hotels
made more than $A4 billion profit ($2.04 billion U.S.) from just over
100,000 poker machines in operation, the Morning Herald reported Dec.
The problems gambling can create were illustrated in a Nov. 25 article
in the Washington Post. The report on South Africa noted that in recent
years the government has lifted the ban on casinos and other forms of
gambling. Since 1996, 24 casinos have opened and another 16 licenses
have been granted.
A national lottery began just under two years ago attracts long lines
for tickets -- even though the odds of winning the big prize of almost a
half million dollars are only 1 in 14 million.
In a country where nearly half the population is classified as poor and
a third of the work force is unemployed, the attraction of hitting the
jackpot is leading many to squander money they can ill afford to lose.
The Post article noted that many lose the money they need to pay rent,
educate their children and buy food.
"In a country with so much poverty, gambling can fuel fantasies
that are out of reach for virtually everyone," said Peter Collins,
executive director of the National Center for the Study of Gambling at
the University of Cape Town.
In Argentina, casino gambling rose 25% in the year ending last June,
according to a Sept. 2 report in the newspaper La Nación. The paper
quoted a psychoanalyst, Susana Epstein, who said the economic crisis was
prompting some people to turn to gambling in order to seek a solution to
their problems. Gamblers Anonymous of Argentina calculates that about 3
million of the country's 37 million people are addicted to gambling.
Mexico, meanwhile, is considering lifting its 1934 prohibition against
casinos. Racetracks now offer about the only legal outlet for gamblers,
the Financial Times noted Jan. 3.
The congressional tourism commission has recommended legalization of
casinos in tourist destinations, such as Cancún and Acapulco, and along
the U.S.-Mexican border. The commission says this could bring in $3
billion in annual revenues and create 98,000 permanent jobs.
There are concerns, however, that casinos could also attract
prostitution, drug trafficking and money laundering, the Financial Times
observed. Raul Escamila of the Mexicali Center of Rehabilitation
commented: "The casino owners will be the winners in this game, but
our children will the ones who lose," referring to the fear that
casinos will lead the local population to waste its money on gambling.
What the Church says
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2413, has the following to say
on gambling: "Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not
in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when
they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and
those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.
Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the
damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot
reasonably consider it significant."
How can we distinguish when gambling is morally acceptable or not? Leon
J. Suprenant offered some pointers on this matter, in the July-August
2001 issue of Lay Witness magazine.
His article referred to the virtues of temperance and justice.
Temperance, also referred to as moderation, when applied to gambling
means that "one must act moderately and not fall prey to the
passion and excitement of the moment, which might lead him to wager an
amount that is excessive for someone in his state in life."
As for justice, this applies both to the way the game is organized and
to those who take part in it, observed Suprenant. The game itself should
be fair, avoiding fraud or deception. And the participants should only
risk a quantity of money that can be considered as justified for
legitimate recreation, and is not required for important personal needs,
the family, or creditors.
These two virtues should also be applied in examining how much time is
spent gambling. Thus, even a wealthy person should not neglect family
responsibilities by spending inordinate periods at the gaming tables.
Those with plenty of money to spare should also remember that money
spent on gambling could be well spent on helping the poor.
A night of parish bingo can be justified, the article stated. Not only
are the stakes low, but it is also an opportunity to socialize and
provide support for the parish. Nevertheless, in order to avoid possible
problems, the article recommends a number of steps: limiting the amount
that can be wagered; banning alcoholic drinks; and promoting a friendly,
Suprenant also warned parishes against becoming financially dependent on
this type of activities. Exploring other means of fund raising would be
a positive step, and give those not interested in gambling an
alternative way to support a worthy cause.
The recent enthusiasm of governments to promote all forms of gambling is
due principally to the discovery of a new way to raise revenues, without
the political cost of increasing taxes. Governments too would benefit
from a healthy application of the virtues of moderation and temperance.