Can Pope Francis stop Catholic casinos in Australia? @e2mq173 comments

Stephanie Dale

Stephanie Dale

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
Stephanie Dale is a journalist and author with a background of 25 years in media, politics and publishing. Stephanie believes we need to find new ways of sharing our Earth, and making way for all its people, not just those privileged by the current economic system, and all its creatures - on their own terms.
Stephanie Dale
- 4 months ago
Stephanie Dale
I have two published books available - the novel Hymn for the Wounded Man and the travel memoir My Pilgrim's Heart, which was reviewed recently by the Huffington Post.
Pope Frances (Photo courtesy Casa Rosada)

Pope Frances (Photo courtesy Casa Rosada)

By Errol Brandt

Last week, Pope Francis set himself and the Catholic church an enormous challenge.  His Apostolic Exhortation called for decentralisation of power and a renewed focus on shattering the ‘idolatry of money’.  This pope seems less concerned by abortion, contraception and homosexuality and more concerned with the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged in society.

Perhaps this direction will provide the impetus for the Catholic church in Australia to end its unhealthy association with poker machines.  Could we finally see an end to Sydney’s ‘Catholic casinos’?

Few people outside Sydney would be aware of the Catholic church’s involvement with poker machines in Australia. In 2012, Catholic clubs operated 1700 high-intensity poker machines and generated revenue of $134 million.

Strictly speaking, Catholic clubs are legally independent of the Catholic church. In a moral sense they carry the Catholic brand and purport to uphold Catholic principles. The church provides tacit support for the clubs through the ongoing use of its name.

Government figures show that up to 40% of a club’s poker-machine revenue may come directly from problem gamblers. Figures from one Sydney Catholic club, Dooleys, show that almost 80% of the club’s revenue in 2009/2010 came from its high-intensity poker machines.  By extension, this suggests that around one third of Dooley’s total revenue can be attributable to problem gamblers.

The Vatican publishes a catechism as an easy-to-understand summary of Catholic principles.  Catechism 2413 states “Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers 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. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

Catholic bishops in Australia are clearly uneasy with the Church’s association with poker machines.  In 2011 they issued a statement calling for ‘all clubs associated with the church’ to give careful consideration to the Government’s proposed mitigation strategies.  The Catholic clubs ignored this request and chose to support Clubs NSW political campaign against the proposed government reforms.

As a listed company with obligations to shareholders, Woolworths (Australia’s largest operator of poker machines) could almost be expected to put profits ahead of people.  But Catholic clubs are not-for-profit organisations established to benefit their members. Unfortunately, the Catholic clubs exist almost entirely from the money that they extract from poker machines; much of this from the suffering of those with gambling addictions.

The figures show that problem is a serious one. One in eight Australians report that problem gambling affects their family and 95,000 problem gamblers in Australia lose around $45,100 each per year.  This leads to financial, emotional and physical stress on the individual and the family concerned.

Yet on the proliferation of poker machines in Australia, Cardinal Pell has said: “I must confess I do feel a bit uneasy about that, but only a bit uneasy.”   Unlike his bishops, Cardinal Pell does not seem to accept that the Catholic church may actually be part of the problem in Australia.

Before the election, PM Abbott promised to abandon attempts at minimising the social harm from poker machines. Abbott’s ‘solution’ hands over responsibility to Clubs NSW.  In the words of Tim Costello: “this is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank”.

If Abbott is successful in unwinding the reforms introduced by Andrew Wilkie, problem gambling will continue to enslave its addicts and their families.  Those who fight against the reforms do so purely from a position of self-interest.  Unfortunately in Australia, that includes the Catholic church.

Hopefully, Pope Francis can lead the church away from its obsession with people’s bedrooms.  Instead, by fighting the ‘idolatry of money’, he may alleviate those things that cause real harm and injustice in society.

Gambling is not inherently wrong.  However Sydney’s ‘Catholic casinos’ are based on a business model that depends on problem gambling for their survival, and the church in Australia does itself a massive disservice through its tacit support.




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  1. Christ (no cleverness intended)! – no wonder I gave all this away when I was 20. Still, that’s a thought that’s crossed my mind more times than you could shake a stick at, over the past however many years …

  2. John Stannard says:

    This is more of the same from the Catholic Church franchise. There is no central accountability for use of the brand as long as it makes money and hides behind separate legal identities to protect its assets. Idolatry indeed. Top-down power is used only to repress. Repress claims of child sex abuse, or those accepting of homosexuality or the use of contraceptives, or married or women priests.
    This is more evidence that the Catholic Church in Australia is now an old tree, bent and gnarled and hollowing out at the base waiting for the storm to which it will be unable to bend.

  3. Paul Gahan. says:

    A good part of the “Christian” Church certainly has it’s failings. Jesus of Nazareth (the “Christ”)’ is another matter – he was executed for his stand against the power brokers. Encourage Frances for at least making a start with the poor. Gays and Straights are all part of the human condition and should be measured equally, but as for Abbott – well, don’t hold your breath!

  4. Eye opening, as always, Errol.

  5. John Fraser says:

    Getting Pell recalled to Rome … permanently ! … would be best for Australians and Australia.

    Take it to Get Up and see how it goes.

  6. “…This pope seems less concerned by abortion, contraception and homosexuality and more concerned with the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged in society…”

    A pope actually behaving like Christians claim they behave?

    Pope Francis had better watch his back…

  7. Eva Makowiecki says:

    Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. A Pope who follows Christ’s teachings – love not hate. Why do Christians who hate gays, oppress women, and start wars think they are following Christ’s teachings? Aren’t hateful Christians the real abominations? And George Pell, as a ‘company man’ through and through (bugger the ethics, the company must be protected at all costs) is not the man to lead Australian Catholics into anything. Had he been around when Mary MacKillop was working so hard at educating country kids, George Pell would have led the charge to have her excommunicated. So don’t hold your breath waiting for him to show some ethics or concern about problem gamblers and their embattled families. Fortunately, Pope Francis appears well able to supply the moral leadership of which far too many of his clergy need reminding.

  8. This is totally mind blowing, I never knew this, but then again I knew they were a criminal element supporting Hitler…. I don’t believe in the book, but if they do then why do they not follow the book? Oh of course it’s pick and choose, like going through a Christmas catalogue and circling the presents you want.