Hey, Father! NFL season is here! What is the Church’s position on sports gambling and for that matter, gambling in general?

NFL season is here! What is the Church’s position on sports gambling and for that matter, gambling in general?

– Andrew in Springfield

Given the fact that access to gambling has drastically increased in many locations in the last few years, a frequent question being asked is “Is it a sin to gamble?” The Catholic Church provides a good guideline for this question in Paragraph 2413 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “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.”

What this means is that gambling in and of itself is neither good nor evil, it is a moral neutral like money itself is. Money is neither good nor evil, but can be used for good purposes or evil purposes. The same goes for gambling. The circumstances around it determine when it becomes problematic or even sinful.

For example, gambling runs the risk of becoming addicted to the activity and that is where real problems can occur. If someone begins gambling so frequently, or even sporadically, but it begins to have a negative effect on their relationships, finances, or responsibilities at home or work, then extreme caution should be taken.

Gambling should be viewed as entertainment, in the sense that money spent toward it should not be money that is needed for bills, family needs, or other responsibilities. Just like we may spend money to purchase a ticket to a sports game or a movie, we are paying for something that may entertain us for a given time period, but one should always approach it with the expectation that once that money is paid, it is gone. Of course, with gambling there is always a chance that we may win something, but over the course of time, and especially when gambling frequently, one will most likely lose money.

That is why no one should approach gambling as a quick way to make money, and risk money they do not have to spend. Nor is it prudent to continue to gamble to attempt to win back what we have lost, especially when doing so requires risking even more money than is budgeted for other responsibilities.

If gambling starts to cause a strain in our relationships with a spouse, parents, children, or other family members and friends, we should stop, objectively look at the situation, and ask ourselves why is this causing strain? Am I neglecting my responsibly at home, work, or toward my family, friends, church, or community because of my gambling? 

One thing is certain, the availability and temptation to gamble is very prevalent in today’s society. Gaming machines are found at numerous restaurants, bars, even gas stations. The internet provides numerous sites and phone apps for online sports betting, online casinos, and even online lottery tickets. Internet betting can be a cause of other concerns as well because some of those websites are scams that are designed to steal your money with no way to get it back. Gambling on anything that is morally evil presents its own set of problems as well and should always be avoided.

Even things like raffles, bingo, and other fundraisers, where we purchase a ticket or chance to win a bigger prize is a form of gambling, even though most times churches or community organizations may use the proceeds from those things to donate toward a charitable cause or institution.

To reiterate, gambling in and of itself is not good or evil. It all depends upon the circumstances and the consequences it has in our lives, families, and upon our responsibilities. If we gamble, it is best to use moderation, and to treat it as entertainment without the expectation of winning. If we notice signs of addiction when we gamble, or our family members or friends do, take notice, use caution, and seek help so it doesn’t become something that controls and negatively affects our lives. The National Problem Gambling Helpline is 1-800-522-4700.

Father Marty Smith is pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Jerseyville and St. Patrick in Grafton and is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.