Gambling, Bingo and the Catholic Church

For decades the Catholic Church and the game of bingo have had a close association. In fact it was a parish priest that first used bingo to raise funds for his parish school. In the thoughts of most people, including non-Catholics, bingo and the church go together. So how do Catholics feel about the association between their church and bingo? There are two schools of thought on the matter. According to the Ohio Catholic Conference “Games and schemes of chance are not in themselves inherently wrong.” The organization goes on to say that gambling becomes “morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.”

Conservative Catholics have been against bingo and gambling in general for years. While some parishes allow bingo and casino nights others do not. In an article on Belief Net author Jean Raber attempts to prove the bingo is not a form of harmless entertainment. She believes that a large portion of parish bingo players are addicts. Unfortunately most studies conflict with her beliefs and bingo players are the least likely group of players to develop gambling problems. It is rare to see a gambling addict at bingo nights sponsored by Catholic parishes. Internet bingo sites have software in place to identify possible gambling problems and since most bingo players are a tightly knit group and questionable behavior would most likely be addressed by the parish priest.

Many Catholics that are against gambling cite Corinthians 1:36 “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other [grain].” Many interpret this verse as a warning against gambling. While the church agrees that gambling can cause some social ills bingo is a distinctly different form of gambling. Parish bingo games use 100% of the proceeds for charitable causes. In addition they provide an opportunity for many seniors to get out of the hous3e for an evening of fun and socialization with friends. One survey of bingo players in Britain showed that a large majority attends bingo games to socialize and winning money is a secondary consideration.

The Catholic Church has just installed a new Pope. The new Pope, Francis, has a reputation as a conservative and a friend to the poor and oppressed. Sooner or later he will surely be called on to clarify his position on the relationship between charitable gaming and the Catholic Church.