Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 25, 2008
A Little Catechism on Gambling
Questions, answers arising from pastoral letter On Gambling
By BISHOP LUC BOUCHARD
It is hypocritical to profess Christian values and beliefs and then not to act on them when it is possible to do so.
There are three "real issues" related to legalized gambling in Alberta. One is addiction. Another is the systematic and intentional exploitation of the addicted by the provincial government. A third issue is the willing participation in this exploitation by Catholic institutions. 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. What we can do is refuse to profit from exploiting the poor.
In acting morally we are not directly solving gambling addiction but by refusing to profit from the suffering of the poor we are respecting our own religious identity and we thereby raise the issue on the political agenda.
The first pharmacies in Canada that chose to stop selling tobacco products did not stop nicotine addiction but they did contribute to raising awareness of the needless suffering and profiteering that it caused. Over time, this contributed to a reduction in the number of those addicted to nicotine. We are acting in a similar spirit.
Yes, it would be preferable to act in a purely consistent way and refuse all revenue derived from gambling but the manner in which the provincial government disperses gambling revenue makes such consistency impossible.
This is because gambling revenue in Alberta is dispersed in two ways: through the Alberta Lottery Fund and through general revenue. To access money from Alberta Lottery Fund a Catholic institution has to complete a grant request and specifically ask for this money. This is what I am directing Catholic institutions not to do.
The money that goes into general revenue, however, cannot be refused, as it is indistinguishable from, for example, money derived from personal and corporate taxes. Catholics do not personally apply for general revenue as it is used to maintain highways, hospitals, police services, education, welfare, etc.
To refuse to benefit from general revenue funding would require one to move out of the province. Doing what is possible to resist being involved in a social evil is not hypocritical simply because one is not perfectly consistent. What is hypocritical is to profess a set of Christian values and beliefs and then not to act on them when it is possible to do so.
The amount dedicated to helping problem gamblers constitutes a very, very small percentage of total gambling revenue.
Yes, Catholic institutions will lose money as a result of choosing to act morally. If we fail to act morally in line with our beliefs we will lose our identity, our moral purpose and our public credibility. It is better for Catholic institutions to lose money than to lose their identity.
This is a problem that can be addressed only at the political level. Catholic school trustees will have to make their voices heard through lobbying efforts and by discussions with their MLAs. Catholic schools should not have to sacrifice their religious identity in order to be adequately funded. In a province that is recording continuous revenue surpluses, a solution is not difficult to find, if the political will is present.
At present, there are no other funding sources in Alberta that Catholic institutions routinely apply to that raise similar moral concerns. No one is suggesting that Catholic institutions need to verify the entire revenue source for all agencies that provide grants.
It is worth noting, however, that some public institutions such as university researchers are refusing to accept money, for example, from the tobacco industry. They take this moral stand so as not to compromise their freedom and to maintain the public's confidence in their research. The Catholic Church is not the only institution, when it comes to accepting grants that wishes to protect its integrity and safeguard its identity.
This would obviously be merely a superficial legal evasion of the moral responsibility we share as Catholics. A Catholic institution should not 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 applies for the money directly or indirectly.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission both work actively to assist the addicted with counselling, training programs for gaming industry staff, informational campaigns and self-exclusion policies.
Catholic Schools should not have to sacrifice their identity to be adequately funded.
The government additionally funds a university-based research program into the effects of gambling and has conducted public surveys on the issue. What more is the government supposed to do? In the end isn't it simply a matter of choice? No one is being forced to gamble.
Choice is not absolute. Governments regulate products and industries that adversely affect the public's welfare in order to protect the common good. For example, the Province of Alberta regulates tobacco and alcohol products, enforces the Criminal Code regarding illegal drugs, and monitors air and water pollution.
To achieve the common good in these cases requires limiting choice. An individual may not sell tobacco to minors, smoke in a public place, provide alcohol to the intoxicated, drive under the influence of alcohol, pollute a stream, foul the air, distribute child pornography, solicit prostitutes, etc. All of this limiting of personal choice is done to promote the common good.
In 1992, the government failed to protect the common good when it began promoting video lottery terminals and allowed their numbers to grow to over 6,000 scattered in a thousand locations throughout the province despite solid research predicting that as a result of such availability the poor would suffer disproportionately.
The Government of Alberta claims that it provides safeguards and rehabilitation resources for problem gamblers. No objective researcher believes that what is provided is anywhere near adequate. The amounts dedicated to AADAC, for example, constitute a very, very small percentage of the total gambling revenue, approximately one-half of one per cent.
Yes, gambling is a serious moral issue and no, the government is not acting responsibly. Gambling is an unsafe product causing harm to consumers. The government that should be safeguarding the public is also the party who is reaping the profits. Not only individuals but governments can become addicted to gambling.
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