Gambling for the Church: Charity or Sin?

Ready to join in the action, as seen on the Travel Channel? Maybe you're only looking to gamble a little bit, but don't want to spend the gas money driving 100 miles to the casino. Perhaps you're feeling bad about only putting $5 in the collection basket this week.

If you need a place to gamble without the guilt, you need only visit your nearest church or bowling alley. As a charity fundraiser, poker has become more popular than the colloquial bake sale, golf outing, or those really expensive candy bars that your kid brings home, eat, and make you pay for after finishing off the box.

The recent popularity is not without merit.

As an example of traditional fundraising, the ASPCA homepage has a great "how to" page about setting up a bake sale for your local animal shelter. Here are just a few of the topics covered:

  • "You will need a lot help with organizing your bake sale, collecting donations, selling baked goods, collecting money, serving goods, setting up and cleaning up, and delivering donations to the shelters."

  • "Ask each baker to write out the name of the dish they made and a complete list of ingredients. This is important because some people are very allergic to foods commonly found in baked goods, such as coconut, nuts and strawberries. "

  • "It’s important to get the word out about your sale. Make posters asking people to donate baked goods, as well as posters that announce the day of the bake sale. Place posters in schools, community groups, local stores and any clubs you may belong to."

  • "Divide baked goods by type, such as cookies, cakes, flavors, and serving size. You may need to set up several tables to give you space to separate cakes and other items."
Contrast that list against companies like Boston Charity Poker, where the game plan is simple: book the company for an event, and let them do the rest. Even if a charity outsources their fundraising, a church can still make $1000-$2000 in one night. There's no licenses to worry about, no extra donations required, no allergies to warn of. Charity poker is a "win-win combination," according to Hollywood Poker.

But what does the Big Guy upstairs have to say about all this? How am I, a Catholic seeking the proper path, to know if gambling for fundraising is in line with the teachings of our faith? There seems to be a grey area regarding gambling and fundraising.

This spring, Bishop Bouchard from Alberta, Canada spoke out strongly against using gambling funds to pay for Catholic schools. In a pastoral letter he states, " 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." (source)

Luckily for Bishop Bouchard, Catholic schools in the Alberta province are partly subsidized through property taxes.

I attend St. Mary's Church; a poorer, inner-city parish. The church needs to pay operating costs, but the church roof and steeple are in dire need of repair. The bill to fix the roof is estimated at $1.5 million. The demographic of St. Mary's parishioners is middle to lower class, with a large Hispanic population that steers away from events outside of Mass. Raising funds is a serious task for this church.

The parishioners, along with the parish priest, have embraced charity poker as a way to breathe life back into a dying parish. While many of the attendees don't actually belong to the parish, the revenue generated makes Texas Hold 'Em a monthly fundraiser for churches such as this.

The question of charity gambling and church fundraising will continue to be a paradox to Catholics, and a source of ridicule for Evangelicals. Are we perpetuating a disease in this country by the use of poker, or are we simply doing what is required to raise money?

In search of a moral answer, I've become involved in fundraising for my church. Whether I'm a poker dealer or just wearing a funny hat, I feel I'm fulfilling some role in my community. In the end, I'm just trying to help out.


Whether you're new to my story of discernment, or you've followed my journey from the early blogs of myspace, welcome to my new and improved weblog! What started as a simple journal has become a huge part of my vocation story.

Have you ever considered becoming a priest or brother? Does the thought fill you with a mixture of joy, fear, and curiousity? Are you looking for a way to reconnect with your faith, or become more active in your parish? Or maybe you're just like me: trying to become a better Catholic.

If you're looking for answers or maybe just someone to relate to, I encourage you to take a look back at my previous blogs from myspace. I also recommend; many of the questions I asked myself were already being asked by other men experiencing the same things.

Again, thank you for visiting Discernmentlog 2.0, and please let me know what you think. If you have your own story to tell, or maybe an inspirational word to share, feel free to email me at