Statement on the issue of Legalization of Gambling

in The Bahamas

23 May 2010

 

The Bahamian community is currently engaged in much discussion surrounding the possibility of the legalization of gambling.  Surely this matter calls for much serious thought and research as part of an in-depth, national conversation.  Such conversation is a necessary aspect of the formation of public policy in a strong democracy.  I wish here to offer an initial contribution to that conversation.   

The question of legalization of gambling is a challenging one for our Bahamian community as a whole.  It is particularly challenging for our Roman Catholic community.  At the risk of being quoted out of context, I must indicate at the outset the Church’s longstanding tradition that games of chance are not in themselves morally evil.  This finds official expression in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in these words: “Games of chance or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice.”(CCC 2413)  It is on this basis that there is a well known practice of utilizing various games of chance, in particular raffles, as a staple feature of parish fund raising.  

However the same section of the Catechism goes on to say: “[Games of chance] become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs or those of others.  The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement.” (CCC 2413)

Our Catholic tradition recognizes that while gambling is not inherently evil there is the tendency of human nature to go to excess and to extremes.  Thus what may be harmless in the beginning can, without proper restraints, become quite harmful later on.  The wisdom of the law as it now stands seems to understand this reality.  The law as it now stands appears intended to exercise an abundance of necessary caution for the good of individuals and the community as a whole. 

Permitting the harmless use of games of chance while protecting against their harmful excess is indeed the value which the current law appears to protect and promote.  As such, I as the leader of the Roman Catholic community in The Bahamas do not support a change in the current law which would allow the legalization of gambling.

I realize that this is not a simple matter.  While raffles are closely regulated by law, we do have the widespread breach of the legal prohibition of gambling in the case of the illegal numbers industry.  Surely we can not simply pretend that this situation does not exist.  Nor can public authority tolerate the routine violation of the law.

Here we need to come together as a community to reflect on the values which the current law seeks to protect and foster.  We need to explore why there is such widespread gambling in violation of the law. What is it telling us about our character as a people?  How are we to address this stubborn reality for the good of us all? Should we not be encouraging our people to save rather than to gamble?  What alternatives are there to the wholesale repeal of the current law?

Clearly this matter calls for further discussion.  I am not convinced that a mere liberalizing change in the law is the most wise or beneficial course to follow.

 

Most Reverend Patrick C. Pinder

Archbishop of Nassau