Metro-East News

Catholic bishops warn Illinois lawmakers on gambling expansion

Bishop Edward Braxton
Bishop Edward Braxton News-Democrat

The six Catholic bishops in Illinois have issued a warning to the state legislature about using an expansion of gambling as a revenue fix.

The Illinois bishops, including Bishop Edward Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, issued an updated position statement Monday on gambling. The statement warns that as gambling increases in Illinois, “so also does the number of people whose passion for gambling is enslaving them.”

Legislators in recent years have put forward various plans to expand gambling in Illinois. The latest proposal calls for a city-owned casino in Chicago, four other casinos across the state and smaller “satellite” casinos in central and southern Illinois. The plan also would allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks.

The bishops’ statement says games of chance and wagering are not in themselves contrary to justice, but they become “morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for one’s needs and those of others.”

The statement adds: “Buying a lottery ticket, placing a wager on a horse race, or spending an evening at a casino is not in itself wrong. Nor can it be said that it is wrong in itself for churches, schools or other nonprofit or even religious institutions to raise money through raffles or games of chance. Gambling is a moral problem only in certain circumstances.”

The bishops warn that using gambling to support government is problematic.

“The passion for gambling is entering more pervasively into the fabric of our society,” the bishops wrote. “Some see the lottery as a painless way to fund the public treasury. Riverboat gambling is increasingly intertwined with issues of political power. Advertisements for gambling, sometimes directed toward the poor, deceptively offer an easy path to wealth and the American dream.”

Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, who is planning to introduce the latest gaming-expansion legislation, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. He expects to introduce the legislation later this summer.

The bishops didn’t overlook the fact that church-related organizations themselves use gambling to raise money. Church-affiliated groups hold raffles and bingo games all the time. Knights of Columbus clubs were among fraternal organizations seeking to be included among licensees allowed to have video-gambling machines. There now are a number of KC halls across the state that offer the machines.

The bishops wrote that Catholic organizations must “openly examine and debate the impact of gambling in their fund-raising. Games of chance are not to be condemned outright. Funds are urgently needed. Yet many questions might be asked about these events.”

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2475. Follow him on Twitter: @B_Brueggemann.

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