Gambling for God and Country

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

5/15/98

 

Gambling for God and Country

 

"The lotto," says Andy McFadden, one of our parish's brightest teenagers, "is taxes for people who can't do math."

Smart kid.   A lot smarter than many adults who plunk down the first fruits of their pay checks each week on lottery tickets.  If a teenager can see through the lotto scam, why can't adults?

The answer is greed.  Greed in the person playing the lotto.  Even bigger greed in the state government that controls it.   And the biggest greed of all in the people who lobby for gambling so they can  spend the revenue.   In our state, for instance, some of the lotto proceeds go to billionaires so they won't have to use their own money to build stadiums.  That way they can pay millionaire athletes to play  football and baseball.  Good social policy ?  As Sienfeld used to say, "I don't think so!"

Right now our state is debating the legalization of slot machines and casino gaming. Like many states we already have every conceivable permutation of lottery.  The state has totally supplanted the old time bookies and numbers runners they used to throw in jail for doing  the same thing.

The people lobbying for the new forms of gambling (which always seems to be the same people who will own the slot machines and casinos) tell us that gambling will be good for depressed areas.  Baltimore, they say, will be a Garden of Eden.  Everything paid for and nobody having to pay taxes.

Yeah right.  Just look at Las Vegas and Atlantic City.   Now there is paradise on earth!

Gambling, they say it will be a source of tax revenue.  Which really means they are willing to cut the government and the politicians in on the action.

Gaming, they tell us, will create new wealth.  Disguising the fact that all it does is shuffle around the same old wealth, from us to them.

Is gambling something the government should be encouraging?

No.  It makes nothing.  It holds out false hope.  It robs the poor and weak. 

It is the old shell game.  A con for suckers.  And there is one born every minute.

The church should say so.

And  we probably would say so more forcefully  if we weren't so implicated in gambling ourselves.  Bingo!

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a Puritan.  We Catholics believe that everything has its place.   Drinking, sex, dancing and gambling are all acceptable in moderation and if done responsibly.

A game of chance for entertainment is OK.  I play a little penny ante poker on vacations.  I buy and sell the occasional raffle ticket.  I wouldn't mind being on Jeopardy or even Wheel of Fortune.   I throw darts.

But I don't think that anything truly important should be left to games of chance.  And I don't think the church or the state should encourage the spirit of greed.  As a pastor I've seen one to many people gambling away their rent money.

True the stakes are generally lower in charity sponsored gaming.   True the proceeds go to charity.

But since when did the church accept an "end justifies the means" morality?

Shouldn't  both the church and the state be trying to teach people virtues?

Gambling in churches is charity on the cheap.  It is bad example.  It evades our responsibility. It erodes our moral authority and renders us silent when the real sharks get in the water to promote the big games.   

If the lotto is taxes for people who can't do math, then bingo is tithing for people who don't have faith.

Neither the church nor the state should sell its moral authority for a pot of gold.