Gambling FAQs

Why has the Archbishop suddenly decided to ban casino fundraising?

Although some people have the impression this policy is a complete surprise, in fact the gambling policy is the conclusion of a 12-year process.

In 1998, the Bishops of Alberta issued a statement entitled The False Eden of Gambling, in which they voiced concerns over the growing prevalence of gambling in this province and its detrimental effects on individuals and families, in particular among the poor. Since then, the Bishops of both Calgary and of St. Paul have offered more teaching on this issue, and have laid down some guidelines that forbid the participation of parishes and institutions of their dioceses in gambling practices that hurt others

In Edmonton, Archbishop Collins was transferred to Toronto before establishing a policy, so Archbishop Smith has taken up the task. In reality, some of our parishes, church groups and school divisions have already withdrawn from dependence on gambling revenue. Others have still to do so.

The effective date of the policy is October 1. This date was chosen for the entry into effect of a large range of newly revised Archdiocesan policies, among which that pertaining to gambling is only one.

What exactly is covered by the policy?

We recognize there are a range of practices that fall under the title “gambling,” from harmless raffle tickets for a quilt to dangerous activities that feed addictive personalities and cause great harm, such as casinos. The policy pertains precisely and only to three harmful gambling practices, namely, casinos, VLTs and high-stakes bingos.

It is guided generally by the principle that we should not seek to profit from activities that we know harm others, especially the poor. It follows that:

  1. formal co-operation in these activities for fundraising purposes is not to take place;
  2. application for grants from sources funded solely by harmful gambling practices is not to be made; and
  3. monies offered to us by groups that have raised them through the harmful gambling practices are to be politely and respectfully declined.

Catholics are called by the Church’s social doctrine to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable of society. This call rests on the bedrock principle of the inalienable dignity of each and every person, and summons us always to be attentive to how our individual actions may have a negative impact upon others. In recent years, our awareness of the harmful effects of some forms of gambling on others has grown. It is this awareness, shaped by the Church’s social doctrine, that has led to the policy Archbishop Smith has put in place for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

What is meant by “high-stakes” bingo?

These are commercial bingo operations that offer prizes in the multi-thousands of dollars.

When is the deadline for schools to comply with the policy?

Institutions such as schools that rely to a large degree on revenues from gambling cannot be expected to change this overnight. Time will be needed for transitioning away from casino revenues, and the exact timelines will be determined in consultation with administration officials.

What authority does the Archbishop have in how our schools operate or raise money?

When a school is recognized and designated as Catholic, it undertakes as its mission to form students to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. We strive to give them an education which is both comprehensive and excellent, in order to form them as individuals and prepare them to be engaged and active citizens. Woven through all that we do is the goal that unites our efforts and gives them their ultimate meaning: helping our students to know, love and follow the Lord, as members of His Body, the Church. This means two things: first, both the activities and the environment of the school must be clearly centered upon the person of Christ; second, the school participates in the life and mission of the Church. As such, it is subject to the authority of the local Bishop regarding fidelity to the Church’s doctrine on faith and morals.

In Alberta, our Catholic schools have a dual accountability. On the one hand they have a responsibility to follow the civil law of the province and the policies of the Ministry of Education. On the other they are also accountable to the Church, represented in the person of the Bishop, and are therefore expected to follow canon law and to hand on the faith in both its entirety and integrity to our students.

Indeed, a school can only be designated Catholic with the approval of the local Bishop. This latter accountability explains why the Bishops of Alberta have spoken a number of times with respect to the use of gambling revenues in our schools. Their teaching dates back to 1998, when the Bishops issued their statement The False Eden of Gambling. Gambling and its effects upon people’s lives, especially on the poor and vulnerable, is an important moral issue. Schools must take care, then, to ensure that their practices pertaining to this issue are in keeping with the moral teaching of the Church.

Refusing to apply for casinos or government grants derived from gambling revenues doesn’t solve the real issue, which is gambling addiction. What is accomplished by not accepting this revenue source, other than depriving Catholic institutions of funds?

Addiction itself is one of three aspects to the gambling issue. The other two aspects are the systematic and intentional exploitation of the addicted by the provincial government, and the willing participation in this exploitation by Catholic institutions.

As Bishop Luc Bouchard wrote, “We can only effectively deal with real issues over which we exercise some control. We cannot directly control gambling addiction or the moral insensitivity of the provincial government.” (cf. A Little Catechism on Gambling, June 27, 2008).

Bishop Frederick Henry highlighted the principle that a Catholic institution must never cooperate formally in an industry that exploits the weak and vulnerable, as well as the tenet that we must not do what is wrong in order that good may come of it (the ends do not justify the means). (cf. Decision Time, June 20, 2006) He has also recently drawn attention to the growing and alarming effect of gambling, particularly through its presence on the internet, upon our youth. (cf. Entertainment, Needing Money, Wanting to Win, May 4, 2007)

How can the Church condemn fundraising through casinos and yet have no problem with raffles, house and car lotteries, parish bingos and other forms of gambling? Isn’t gambling either right or wrong?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the morality of personal involvement in gambling (cf. CCC 2413). Personal participation in a game of chance is per se morally neutral, but becomes unacceptable if it leads to addiction, deprives others of what is their due, or involves cheating and lack of fairness.

We can compare gaming with liquor in this respect. Selling liquor is not in itself immoral, but selling it to minors or providing it to people who are completely intoxicated and aiming to drive away in a car is. Making money from a raffle ticket with reasonable limits is one thing. Profiting from VLTs that have swallowed the life savings of an addict is certainly another.

If the Church forbids our schools from raising money this way, will the Church make up the shortfall?

The constitutional responsibility for funding education lies with the provincial government. What is needed is a sustainable funding source that does not lead schools to have to accept funding from morally objectionable activities such as harmful gambling, and which is available and distributed to all schools with equity. All schools in Alberta should benefit equally from accessing funds for the purposes that are most critical to their individual programming needs, without having to compromise their principles or identity. A way forward must be found that can address not only the deep concerns of those who oppose participation in gambling-based fund-raising on either religious or non-religious grounds, but also the real inequity created among schools by the current funding framework.

Isn’t it hypocritical for Catholic institutions to forgo gambling revenues and yet accept money from the provincial general revenue fund, which may include proceeds from gaming?

In Alberta, the gambling culture is so pervasive, and is used so extensively by the provincial government for the funding of services, that its residents are often in a situation of seemingly cooperating with what is a morally unacceptable action. Citizens who do not agree with the gambling industry nevertheless have no choice but to use the roads, hospitals, and schools financed with gambling revenues that have been combined with other sources of funds. In fact, this is not cooperation per se in an unacceptable activity; given the absolute lack of choice, there is no culpability on the part of citizens.

Formal cooperation describes the situation in which one freely and with full agreement cooperates in a morally unacceptable action. This is never permissible. When one cooperates in a morally unacceptable action, but without agreement and for some justifiable motive, the cooperation is material. Such material cooperation can be considered legitimate in some situations where one’s moral choices are seriously compromised.

An example often used to illustrate the distinction between formal and material cooperation is the case of a car driver who helps a bank robber escape from the scene of a robbery. If the driver is an accomplice who agrees with the robbery and who freely chooses to drive the robber away in his car, then his cooperation with the evil action is formal. If, however, he is an innocent bystander who happens to be parked outside the bank at the time of the robbery, and who is forced by the robber at gunpoint to help him escape by driving him away, the cooperation of the driver is material, and he is not culpable.

In Alberta, government revenues derived from gambling are distributed in two ways. The first manner is to channel gambling revenues to the various government ministries, which combine these dollars with those received from general taxation. This pooled revenue is used to finance such provincial services as highways, education and health care. Our schools and other institutions may legitimately receive this funding because they cannot exercise control over the manner in which the government provides it. As mentioned above, it is impossible, practically speaking, for them to differentiate between gambling receipts and other revenues.

The second way of distributing funds derived from gambling is to allow groups a direct sharing in the proceeds of gambling activity, such as a casino. Groups may:

  1. choose to apply directly for a grant from a fund that has been sourced solely from gambling revenues, or they may
  2. choose to volunteer as workers in casinos and earn a portion of the profits.

Both scenarios are morally problematic; groups (a) would be complicit in an immoral activity by applying directly to a fund sourced only from harmful gambling activities, while groups (b) would be formally cooperating by direct participation in those activities.

I’m not an addict, but I like to play bingo or go to a casino once in a while for entertainment, and I occasionally buy lottery and 50/50 tickets. Is the Church saying all this is immoral?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, personal participation in a game of chance is, per se, morally neutral, but it does become morally problematic if it leads, for example, to addiction, or deprives others of their due, such as family support.

Catholics are called by the Church’s social doctrine to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable of society. This call rests on the bedrock principle of the inalienable dignity of each and every person, and summons us always to be attentive to how our individual actions may have a negative impact upon others.

If public schools are accepting money from the Alberta Lottery Fund and/or provincial grant programs, and Catholic schools are not, a growing revenue disparity will result, so will parents be tempted to send their children to better-equipped public schools.

It is not likely that the prevalence of gambling will diminish in this province anytime soon. Our province has itself become dependent upon it.

As long as this situation remains, a way forward must be found that can address not only the deep concerns of those who oppose participation in gambling-based fund-raising on either religious or non-religious grounds, but also the real inequity created among schools by this particular funding framework.

What is needed is a sustainable funding source that does not lead schools to have to accept funding from morally objectionable activities such as harmful gambling, and which is available and distributed to all schools with equity. All schools in Alberta should benefit equally from accessing funds for the purposes that are most critical to their individual programming needs, without having to compromise their principles or identity.

Yes, Catholic institutions may lose money as a result of choosing to act morally. But if we fail to act morally in line with our beliefs, we will lose our identity, our moral purpose and our public credibility.

Would it be acceptable for a Catholic institution to accept money from the Alberta Lottery Fund or a provincial grant program if the money came through an arm’s-length third party such as a group of parents who establish a legal society for this purpose?

No Catholic institution should accept gambling revenues coming through such thinly disguised and questionable sources. The poor are still being victimized and Catholics are profiting from their suffering, whether the institution knowingly applies for the money directly or indirectly.