In the late 1970s when my brother applied to join the local licensed Catholic Club in suburban Sydney, he needed a reference from his Parish Priest. To join you had to be a practicing Catholic and show your reason for joining was furthering the aims of the club – being supporting the Catholic Church. Back then the local club sponsored trainee priests at the seminary. The club had poker machines (slot machines) like all licensed clubs in Sydney, but they did not consume the club. In the past 25 or so years poker/gaming machines have come to dominate licenced clubs in Sydney, including the Catholic Clubs. And now you don’t need to be a Catholic to join a Catholic Club. Just pay the $5.00 or $10.00 membership fee and you’re in. Most of the large clubs now have multi-player machines that have large jackpots, and machines that are electronic versions of casino games like blackjack and roulette. The Australian government has recently announced plans to impose curbs on gaming machines in clubs and hotels, including limiting bets per play to $1.00, and requiring players to pre-commit to how much they are prepared to lose in the machines each day. Not surprisingly the Club industry is outraged. In a recent issue of the Jesuit magazine Eureka Street, editor Michael Mullins writes that the Catholic Clubs should take a moral stand and publically support the proposed curbs. And he argues that gambling is a modern form of slavery for problem gamblers, and is therefore against the seventh commandment.
The Catholic Catechism agrees, stipulating that while games of chance 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’. … The Catholic Catechism says:
‘The seventh commandment forbids … enterprises that for any reason — selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian — lead to the enslavement of human beings … It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.’
Mullins claims that the clubs have the official backing of the church. If they still have, then the Catholic Church needs to apply some pressure to the clubs to ensure they show some social responsibility.
Catholic clubs donating funds to children’s sporting groups and other community organisations is, on the surface, ok. But if a substantial amount of that money has come from the pockets of problems gamblers, then it is not ok. Not at all.