Peter Stock
The Interim

Is gambling an age-old, harmless pastime, or is it a pernicious vice to be publicly condemned by the Christian church?

Gambling is never specifically condemned anywhere in the Scriptures. Yet, some of the attitudes of the heart that may accompany gambling certainly are, such as greed or laziness in trying to gain something without honest labour.

Christian denominations have been all over the map in their official responses to gambling through the centuries, with some condemning any game of chance, even when money is not involved, to those who have actively used forms of gambling as fundraisers for church-building projects and charitable works.

When Alberta held local referendums on the issue of banning VLTs in various municipalities in 1998, the Catholic bishops of that province offered some reflections on the matter in a joint commentary.

They first quoted the Catholic Catechism, which says, “Games of chance 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” (No. 2413).

But the bishops pointed out that just because one is not recklessly gambling does not mean one’s time and money is being spent wisely when invested in gambling. “If those who gamble are wealthy enough to put money into games of chance, then a glance at Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels suggests that they use the money to help the poor.”

In fact, they say, “The same could be said for much of the money and time most of us spend on various entertainments, so this is a meditation for all who have what is euphemistically referred to as ‘disposable income.’”

While entertainment is a normal and usually healthy part of any culture, Christian or otherwise, the Alberta bishops have issued a challenge worthy of serious reflection. What is the proper balance to be struck between our charitable giving and volunteering, and our time and money spent entertaining ourselves with playing the slots, buying lottery tickets or, for that matter, watching television, movies or theatre?