Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 26, 2007
Pastoral Letter to the Faithful of the Diocese of St. Paul
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP LUC BOUCHARD
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The Vanier Institute for the Family says up to 90 per cent of pathological gamblers have considered suicide.
It was through the clever marketing activities of the gambling industry and the inaction of the provincial government that a culture of gambling was established in Alberta. The government never properly assessed the social cost of legalized gambling before enthusiastically expanding it. Also the government never adequately consulted with the people of Alberta as to whether or not they wanted legalized gambling on such a large scale.
Dr. David Korn's research at the University of Toronto concludes that 15% of Canadians do not gamble, 80% gamble and experience either no difficulties or experience mild to moderate problems while the remaining 5% suffer severe problems. This continuum is similar to AADAC's analysis of the gambling population of Alberta, which classifies 5.2% of gamblers as experiencing serious difficulties. The same AADAC research reveals, however, that those who play VLT's experience much higher incidence of difficulties with 21.8% of VLT players reporting severe problems. Sources with Gamblers Anonymous report that 80% of new attendees report VLT's as their major problem. AADAC's gambling hotline also reports a similarly high percentage of those seeking help self-identifying as having problems with VLT's (50%).
The severe problems that result from gambling are obviously caused by the loss of significant amounts of money and the resulting anxiety, family stress, and inner conflict these losses create. A 2002 study by the Alberta Gaming Research Institute using the Canadian Problem Gambling Index determined that gamblers experiencing severe problems were losing on average $700 per month. If the average loss is $700 this means that half of these problem gamblers are losing more, some much more, than $700 per month.
The impact created by losing $700 and more per month varies with a person's income. For a person on welfare or receiving AISH or a person on modest means supporting a family losing this much money month after month will have a profound impact on their family's welfare. The poor who experience such ongoing losses pay a severe price. The Vanier Institute on the Family similarly estimates that "4% of the population with a serious gambling problem contributed 23% of the revenues."
Dr. Garry Smith and Dr. Harold Wyne produced an Alberta Gaming Research Institute study that describes problem gamblers as evenly divided male and female. 56% are between the ages of 30 to 50 years old. There is a disproportionate number from both the low and high income groups. Many are unemployed, working part-time, retired or homemakers and often suffer from other addictions. The Vanier Institute reports that the personal cost of pathological gambling can include "bankruptcy, family break up, domestic abuse, assault, fraud, theft, homelessness and even suicide . . . up to 90% of pathological gamblers have considered suicide and 20% of those in treatment actually attempted it." The Canada Safety Council in a September 2006 report entitled "Canadian Roulette" concluded that suicide attempts are more common with pathological gamblers than with any other forms of addiction and additionally noted that gambling is a factor in 6.3% of suicides.
In summary, the population most severely affected by gambling constitutes a most vulnerable minority. This group of Albertans consistently loses large amounts of money. They are disproportionately poor. These people are not "gaming"; they are suffering.
Similar analysis yielding similar results for the social cost of gambling has been completed in the United States and Australia. It is well documented and not seriously disputed that a vulnerable minority will suffer when a legalized culture of gambling, particularly one that allows VLT's, is established.
What is only beginning to be documented is the effect that a gambling culture has on youth. Jeffrey L. Derevensky of McGill University concluded from research conducted in 2003/2004 that young people are especially susceptible to gambling addiction because it is the nature of youth to be attracted to risks. He concluded that in Canada, "4% - 8% of adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age gamble at a pathological level and another 10% - 15% are at risk of developing a serious problem." The risk to youth created by a gambling culture is even greater to youth than it is to adults.
The Bible does not contain any direct references to the morality of gambling. When what appear to be gambling devices such as dice are mentioned in the Bible it is not in the context of placing bets but of making decisions. The Bible does not offer specific moral teaching on gambling.
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Gamblers Anonymous reports that 80 per cent of new attendees report VLTs as their major problem.
In a similar way, the Catholic Church has traditionally not developed a moral teaching focused on gambling. The Church regards gambling as a neutral act best evaluated in reference to other moral factors such as the gambler's motives and the specific circumstances involved. Gambling is viewed as morally acceptable when it provides relaxation, community involvement, and an element of leisure or fun. The Church's moral approach to gambling is primarily to see that the requirements of justice and temperance are maintained. For example, if one cheats while gambling or wagers excessively then a moral issue is present.
The Catholic Catechism deals with gambling under the section dealing with the seventh commandment. It 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 Catechism simply summarizes the Church's traditional morality of gambling. Catholics have generally only opposed gambling when it was obviously dishonest or hurt individuals or their families. That is why the Church in years past had no objections to community fund raising events such as raffles and bingos. They were viewed as leisure activities providing recreation, building community spirit and supporting a good cause.
It is in the Church's social teaching, most clearly presented in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, (2005), where one discovers a developed moral perspective that places the human suffering created by the gambling industry into focus. The principles of social justice found in the Compendium that are the most applicable to understanding the moral challenge of legalized gambling are the following:
It is clear that legalized gambling in Alberta is in very sharp conflict with the Catholic social justice principles outlined above. The minority victimized by legalized gambling is treated with little respect. Their plight is ignored and for all practical purposes they are rendered invisible due to public indifference. Deriving massive gambling revenues disproportionately from the poor does not support the common good. The poor are not being adequately protected when we have solid statistical evidence as to how seriously they suffer in a gambling culture. Solidarity with the poor requires the Church to oppose the current excesses of legalized gambling in Alberta.
In Alberta, government revenue from gambling is collected by the Ministry of Gaming, and is distributed in two ways. The first is when the government disperses money through the Alberta Lottery Fund to what are termed "Payments to other Ministries." This means that the government gives additional financing to various ministries such as health, social services, and education by depositing gambling revenues into their operating budgets. In this case it is not practically possible for a hospital or a school board to sift out the revenues they receive that come from gambling and those that come from general taxation. No one who analyzes this situation is scandalized that Catholic schools, for example, accept such monies, as it is impossible to separate them from their ordinary funding.
t is the second way gambling revenue is dispersed that is problematic. In this case, a group formally requests recognition from the Ministry of Gaming in order to directly share in the proceeds of, for example, a casino. This means that Catholic institutions and organizations trying to achieve a good end, additional resources for children, are doing so by using clearly immoral means. They are making a clear choice to profit from gambling. This is scandalous and compromises the religious identity of the institution or organization.
In my judgment it is not morally possible to actively seek funds that one knows are derived from legalized gambling as it is currently operated in Alberta. Ignoring those victimized by gambling or even worse profiting from their suffering is foreign to the gospel. Because Catholic institutions and organizations are closely associated with the Church's mission to witness, to evangelize and to instruct, I am directing that, within a maximum of three years, Catholic parishes, schools, and other organizations cease to actively pursue revenues that are derived from gambling.
Secondly, I am requesting that the faithful of the Diocese of St. Paul consider:
I have written this letter after much thought and prayer solely because the issue is so serious. Church institutions cannot accept monies derived from the well-documented suffering of a vulnerable minority without compromising their mission and endangering their socially prophetic role. I am counting on your faithful response in this matter in order to insure that our institutions and organizations are free to work for justice and to witness to the gospel.
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