How does the Church view gambling?

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A legislative agreement allowing two Native American tribes to build casinos will be approved or rejected by California voters. Residents of Colorado will have to decide whether to permit roulette, card games, and slot machines at horse racetracks.

Massachusetts people will have the chance to allow resort casinos to establish themselves in the state for the first time. South Carolina is also considering whether to build well-regulated, premium casinos in and near Myrtle Beach. Online casinos are also an option and players who are interested by online slots, roulette or video poker can consult this website.

Catholic voters must make a difficult decision.

Catholics are not forbidden from gambling, but under Pope Francis’s leadership, it has become more and more controversial.

The expanded gambling plan was opposed by the bishops of Massachusetts in 2011. He claimed that it would permit “predatory” actions that might significantly change communities.

However, the bishops confirmed that the Catholic Church did indeed allow “games of chance” in the same letter. After all, by using bingo games to boost parish funding, the Church itself engages in gambling. The letter did add however that they hoped that public would realize the difference between a local fundraiser run by volunteers and a multi-billion dollar industry that preys on helpless members of the community for profit.

The Catholic catechism discusses the Seventh Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” in further detail. This subject includes gambling. The Catechism makes it clear that games of chance themselves are not contradictory to justice. However it adds the very explicit qualification that gambling only violates morality when it prevents someone from having what is required to provide for his needs and those of others.

Catholicism has some pretty strong teachings on other people’s needs.

Catholic tradition of social thinking makes it clear that we should view the possessions we have as belonging to us and others in common rather than just to ourselves.

This idea has been reiterated by Pope Francis multiple times, most recently when he cited Saint John Chrysostom – Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to steal them and to deprive them of life. We own their possessions rather than our own.

The church has historically had a somewhat ambiguous attitude toward money and gambling. On the one hand, Catholicism has accorded the wealthy the same privileges as any other religion. The wealthy have easier access to influence and power, as well as easier access to annulments.

On the other hand, poverty is one of the main virtues acknowledged within the Catholic faith. One of the vows that members of monastic orders must take, along with chastity and obedience, is poverty. It is commonly stated that the riches of the saints can be discovered in their poverty.

The response of the church to casino gambling has typically been to ensure that it doesn’t go too far in terms of public policy. In addressing the issue of riverboat gambling by outlining the standards by which it should be regulated, Pennsylvania’s bishops adopted that stance.

You can gamble, but exercise caution, was the clear message. Do so moderately and within reasonable bounds.

And, in fact, this is the default Catholic attitude. It was revealed that “The Book of Virtues” author and former US education secretary William Bennett was a high roller who reputedly wagered millions of dollars. The reaction was not that he was sinful as a Catholic in and of himself, but rather that his behavior was embarassing for a man of his standing.

Pope Francis is adamant in his stance on our responsibility to help those in need.

It is difficult to comprehend how gambling of any kind can be justified; especially given that the money we could so carelessly wager might not belong to us alone.

But if casino gambling is bad, then parish bingo is as well; especially in light of the Catholic Church’s adamant stance that the poor need justice, not just charity.

The question of whether Catholic values should be incorporated into civil law is at the heart of the debate about Catholics and casinos. The Massachusetts bishops presented the gambling issue in light of Catholic social teaching. But it can also be looked at as a more comprehensive framework that considers the common good of the Commonwealth.

Given the intricacy of the problems at hand this is a reasonable course of action. However, given the divisive discussion that will undoubtedly ensue, it would be appropriate for the Catholic Church to reconsider the message it conveys about gambling, not just in the public square but also in the parish hall.

It’s a very personal decision that depends on a well-formed conscience that answers a number of questions. For Catholic voters who are having trouble balancing the Pope’s advice with the sense of community and charity they experience at bingo (or just plain fun during the occasional casino visit), it’s important to remember that:

What are the requirements of my family or community? What connection may gambling make to such needs? Does winning a wager cost someone else money?

The subject of gambling most fundamentally prompts us to consider our frequently conflicted attitudes toward money and how our belongings could serve the greater good rather than just our own whims and fancies.

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