Why do Churches Offer Bingo Nights?
If you saw an advert in your local paper promoting an evening of poker or live sports betting held at the village church you might be a little taken aback. Religion and gambling aren’t the most obvious combination in the world, after all.
But if that same advert was promoting a night of bingo it would be far less likely to register as odd or contradictory. Bingo is a fairly common occurrence in church halls up and down the country.
Yet, bingo is legally classed as gambling, and anywhere that wants to provide bingo as an entertainment service needs to acquire the appropriate license; so do churches fall into this category, and if so, what is the story here?
The Relationship Between the Church & Bingo
Churches are forever needing to raise money to repair the roof, fix the organ, or to send the Sunday school kids on an educational weekend, etc. Church fairs are not uncommon in this country with bake sales, games, and the opportunity to throw a wet sponge or cream pie at the vicar all being staple ingredients.
But aside from passing around a plate for donations each Sunday service they need to find more ways to engage their congregation and raise funds.
Bingo is a game that can be played by a limitless number of people, and it is also very accessible as the rules are simple and no one needs any special ability in order to enjoy it. It’s a game of chance, so the strapping 24 year old with two tickets has just as much chance of winning as the 89 year old retiree with ten.
What’s more, with the law stating that games of chance like bingo can be played to raise money for good causes with no license or any real regulation, bingo is the perfect fundraising game and has the potential to raise unlimited amounts of dosh.
Churches simply have to abide by these rules:
- Each player may only be charged £8 per day, be that an entrance fee, combined ticket purchases, etc.
- Total paid out amongst all players must not exceed £600.
- The money raised must not be used for private gain and must all go to a good cause minus reasonable costs.
That’s it. Under 18s are even allowed to take part.
It’s understandable then how bingo became something of a go to activity for churches, but where does the church stand on gambling in general, and if they take a dim view on it, how do they justify using bingo as a means to raise money?
Is Gambling a Sin?
Since we know as a point of fact that bingo is classified as gambling, we can fast forward past that argument and address the question of whether or not it is deemed to be sinful.
You might be surprised to learn that the bible doesn’t specifically say anything about gambling – it has plenty to say about wearing clothes made with both linen and wool, but nothing about gambling.
There is a lot of content regarding money and greed, however, and this can give us some clues as to what God – if you believe in a God – might ‘think’ about gambling.
- For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
- Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist of an abundance of possessions.”
- Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.
- Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
- Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
These extracts all come with their own problems and questions, but none of them are specific enough to give us a definitive answer. Even if you read around the opinions of various different Christian denominations, and even the individual groups within each denomination, no one can seem to agree.
One Catholic might say that bingo is just as bad as all forms of gambling and the first step on the road to addiction, while another might see it as a legitimate and harmless way to raise money. The waters are muddy to say the least, which is why bingo nights in church halls are such a contentious subject in religious circles.
Is gambling deemed to be sinful? The answer is it depends who you ask.
Perhaps if we explore bingo as a form of gambling instead we will come to a clearer conclusion.
Gambling it most definitely is, but aside from the lottery it is arguably the softest form of gambling that exists.
Bingo has a reputation (that is starting to change I warrant you) for attracting little old ladies who spend a night and a few pounds dabbing away at their tickets in the hope of winning mostly small change apart from the odd big jackpot.
It is characterised as a fun, light-hearted, cheap and cheerful social activity with perhaps a small prize at the end of it. All very summer fete at the local town hall, and most importantly, none threatening.
Compare this with the stereotypical reputation of poker (lying, booze, gangsters) or sports betting (desperate men clutching betslips and yelling at the TV screen) and it all seems very fluffy in comparison.
Of course, these stereotypes are unfair – you are just as likely to meet a bingo addict as a responsible sports bettor – but this certainly goes some way to explaining why bingo is a more socially acceptable form of gambling, and thus why certain religious groups feel it is an acceptable way to raise money for their church.
However, the question as to whether or not this is contradictory or morally ambiguous still remains, and that is largely because the church doesn’t take an official position, so it’s down to each church and/or denomination to decide for itself. Although it would seem that to be ok with bingo they would also need to be ok with other forms of responsible gambling, or else risk appearing inconsistent in their views.
The most common conclusion when reading around this subject is that bingo, and even gambling itself, is not officially seen as wrong. There is nothing in the bible that directly condemns it.
It is essentially paying for entertainment and it is hard to argue that there is anything wrong with that, otherwise you would also need to call for the closure of cinemas, theatres, and concert venues.
The problem comes when people spend too much on bingo, money that was needed for something else like rent or bills. So it is not bingo itself that is the issue, it is the behaviour of the person playing it. But that person could equally be spending too much on shoes, or holidays, or anything else.
There is no consensus on this; those who are for bingo in church halls will say that the bible doesn’t speak against it, and those that disagree will claim that it is immoral and born from greed which the bible clearly states is a sin.
As with most things in life, money talks, and if a church needs a new roof and thinks a weekly bingo night might pay for it, you can bet that game will be going ahead.
If you saw an advert in your local paper promoting an evening of poker or live sports betting held at the village church you might be a little taken aback.
O’CONNOR QUESTIONS CHURCH’S RELIANCE ON BINGO
By Michael Norman
March 25, 1986
John Cardinal O’Connor has suggested that bingo, the game of chance, may not be an appropriate way for the Roman Catholic Church to raise money. But, for now, he has not ordered parishes to stop the weekly games or indicated that he would do so.
Speaking at what was described as a ”lively give-and-take session” with a group of priests earlier this month, the Cardinal said that bingo, long a staple of social and economic life in the church, saps the energy of priests and ”orients a parish to money raising rather than the spiritual.”
The church should try to find ”a dignified substitute” for bingo, the Cardinal told the group, the 35-member Priests Council, which meets monthly in the Archdiocese of New York.
The debate over bingo is an old one in the American branch of the church, but Cardinal O’Connor may be the highest ranking theologian to speak out on the issue.
”This has come up over and over again in Catholic circles, but I can’t think of anyone of Cardinal O’Connor’s stature that has expressed himself so strongly on the subject,” said Russell Shaw, a spokesman for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.
Along with other events like bazaars, the proceeds from bingo games helped to raise $11,102,000 for the archdiocese in the last fiscal year. Much of that money helped finance church elementary and secondary schools.
The Cardinal also told the priests he was considering a drive, aimed at business and industry, to try to raise $100 million for Catholic schools. And he talked about tithing, the practice of allocating a percentage of a person’s income to the church, as having ”outstanding potential for building a sense of community.”
Bingo and other activities are often used to help keep tuition at parochial schools within the reach of families served by the church. So far, the Cardinal has not been able to come up with a substitute for bingo, a spokesman, the Rev. Peter G. Finn, said.
”I think he’s looking for a creative approach to meeting the fiscal challange that faces so many of our parishes,” Father Finn added. ”But there is no formal process under way. It would be an ongoing study.”
The Cardinal spoke out on bingo because of ”the amazement he had when he found out there were some parishes where, because of the burden of schools, they were required to run multi-bingos, three or four times a week,” the spokesman said.
”He felt this was above and beyond the call of duty, that it occupies a lot of their energies,” Father Finn said. ‘It Provides Enjoyment’
In the past, the debate over bingo has usually centered on three questions: Is the game subject to corruption from influences outside the church? Is it within the bounds of good taste and does it hurt the image of the church? And is it an efficient way to raise money?
The debate, however, rarely results in action because bingo has become a way of parish life and because it is difficult to raise money in other ways.
”It provides enjoyment for a lot of people and serves the social aspect of getting them together,” said Gerald M. Costello, editor of Catholic New York, a weekly newspaper in the archdiocese that first reported the Cardinal’s remarks on bingo.
Although some people consider the game an unfit activity for a sanctuary, the church is not officially opposed to gambling.
”The church has never taught that gambling per se is something that is intrinsically wrong,” said the Rev. William B. Smith, a professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, ”but circumstances surrounding it could make it wrong, like if someone is gambling away the money they need to feed or educate their children.”
He added, ”If we could find better ways of raising money, I’m sure we’d do so.”
O’CONNOR QUESTIONS CHURCH’S RELIANCE ON BINGO By Michael Norman March 25, 1986 John Cardinal O’Connor has suggested that bingo, the game of chance, may not be an appropriate way for