Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 26, 2007
Alta's gambling culture a scandal, says Bouchard
Pastoral letter calls for provincial review of gaming
Bishop Luc Bouchard
By GLEN ARGAN
The choice of Catholic organizations to raise funds from gambling "is scandalous and compromises the religious identity of the institution or organization," says the bishop of St. Paul.
In a pastoral letter issued Ash Wednesday, Feb. 21, Bishop Luc Bouchard said he is giving Catholic parishes, schools and other organizations in his diocese up to three years to stop pursuing revenues derived from gambling.
Bouchard also calls on the 57,000 Catholics in his northeastern Alberta diocese to contact their MLAs to state four concerns or recommendations:
- That legalized gambling does an injustice to a vulnerable minority.
- That the province should to set up "an impartial and open public review of legalized gambling in order to see if the current and future benefits of gambling are not outweighed by their costs."
- That the province substantially increase "the quality and quantity" of counselling resources available for problem gamblers.
- That VLTs (video lottery terminals) and video slot machines should be eliminated or, at the very least, restricted to licensed casinos.
Bouchard also called on the faithful to examine their own gambling behaviour "and resolve not to contribute to a culture of gambling. Be especially conscious of the example you set for your children."
The bishop said he wrote the 2,800-word pastoral letter "after much prayer and thought, solely because the issue is so serious."
The Alberta bishops have long spoken against the growing culture of gambling in the province. In 1998, as a group they issued a statement - The False Eden of Gambling - that urged governments "to avoid seeing gambling as a cash cow to be milked for ever-increasing monies."
Bishop Fred Henry has spoken strongly against gambling since his arrival in Calgary later in 1998 and last year convinced the Calgary Catholic School District to end the involvement of school councils in casinos.
In his letter, Bouchard, bishop of St. Paul since 2001, traces the history of gambling in Alberta since 1967 when the only gambling was "relatively innocent games of chance and skill" taking place on the midways of agricultural fairs and exhibitions.
17 permanent casinos
Today, the province has 6,000 VLTs, 8,000 slot machines, 2,300 lottery ticket centres, five racetracks, three racing entertainment centres and 17 permanent casinos. About $1.3 billion a year is raised through gambling in the province.
"Gambling in Alberta is so visible and so ever present that no one any longer even notices what a profound ethical transformation has occurred in such a short period of time.
"In less than 30 years, Alberta was transformed from a province that scorned gambling as disreputable and undesirable to one that now enthusiastically promotes gambling as an entertainment."
Bouchard chronicles the efforts of citizens' groups in the late 1990s to have VLTs banned in the province, noting that in local plebiscite campaigns, "they were easily outspent by the pro-VLT Alberta Hotel Association."
The pro-VLT lobby "framed the issue as one of civil liberties vs. censorship" and defended people's so-called freedom of choice.
But Bouchard describes gambling as a violation of social justice.
While the Catholic Church has no well-developed teaching on the morality of gambling, it espouses principles such as human dignity, the common good, solidarity and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, which he says are "in very sharp conflict" with legalized gambling.
"Legalized gambling is not socially harmless but quite destructive to individuals, to families and ultimately to communities."
About 80 per cent of Albertans gamble and suffer no difficulties, he notes. But of the four or five per cent who do experience serious difficulties from gambling, roughly 80 per cent say their main problem is addiction to VLTs.
Of those who do play VLTs, 21.8 per cent report serious problems.
A 2002 study found that gamblers with severe problems in Alberta were losing an average of $700 a month, Bouchard said.
The bishop quotes a report by the Vanier Institute on the Family that says, "up to 90 per cent of pathological gamblers have considered suicide and 20 per cent of those in treatment actually attempted it."
Those most severely affected by gambling are disproportionately poor and they "constitute a most vulnerable minority."
The report also said that children in problem gambling families live in an "atmosphere of chronic interpersonal conflict, poor parenting and domestic violence."
(The full text of Bishop Bouchard's pastoral letter is available on the WCR website,www.wcr.ab.ca, and will be published in next week's WCR.)