Is Gambling A Sin? A Quick Visit with the Catechism

The NFL season is around the corner and with it is the even bigger and more lucrative sport: gambling. Fantasy football and office pools are the shop talk at countless places of business. The cumulative football wagers across the country were estimated to be in the billions—and that was just for Super Bowl 2015.

The morality–and legality–of sports gambIs Gambling A Sin- A Quick Visit with the (1)ling is a hot topic and it’s easy to see why some might be inclined to say it is wrong. After all, the Bible details how Roman soldiers cast dice for Jesus’s garments while Our Lord died on the cross. No one wants to be like those guys, right?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “2413 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. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

The position of our Church makes sense. In Her wisdom, She points out that gambling in and of itself is morally neutral. But like many things, using it inappropriately (and moreover, its overuse) is where it becomes sinful.

As Father William P. Saunders wrote:Is Gambling A Sin- A Quick Visit with the (2)

“He must not risk money that is necessary for the livelihood of himself or those entrusted to his care. Moreover, a gambler should always weigh whether that money could be better used for something of clear, tangible benefit. Even a wealthy person who may have great disposable income must use moderation, recognizing that the money risked on frivolous gambling could be used to help those less fortunate.

With this foundation in mind, several “classic” rules govern gambling:

  1. A player must be free to dispose of the stakes wagered in the game. He must be able to accept the risk of losing the stakes without incurring harm to himself or to others. Basically, the stakes should be “disposable” money.

  2. The player must make the gamble with full knowledge and consent.

  3. All players must have an equal chance of winning.

  4. The game must be fair. All fraud or deception is prohibited.

  5. While everyone enjoys winning, the motive for playing the game should be one of pleasure rather than of gain. One must not depend upon gambling for one’s livelihood. (Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology)

So where does that leave the office pool? Rest assured, you or your husband can participate if it is affordable for your family (although there is still a question about the ethics of taking away time from your work with this “hobby”). If you’re looking for some saintly guidance, look to St. Cajetan, the patron saint of gamblers.  And if you or anyone you know is experiencing a dependency or addiction, seek help. Talk to your parish priest, pray for the intercession of St. Bernardino (the patron saint of impulsive or uncontrolled gambling), and call the National Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-522-4700.

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