The question above was “thrown” at me by a disturbed friend who wanted to know the morality behind the popular Nigerian game called “Bet9ja”, like other forms of betting, lottery, pool, raffle draw, etc., all understood as gambling. These games as we know are quite related and are often done in some centres or online with the aim of giving out a “fortune” to winners. In these games, the participants stake their money or other things of value on the issue of a game of chance.
First, talking about the stand of the Catholic Church, we must understand that there is no mention of the word “gambling” in the Bible, although there are a few examples of casting lots (with a famous example being the Roman soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments at his crucifixion (cf. John 19:24). God is never quoted for saying “Thou shall not gamble or buy lottery tickets.” Besides, some Churches even hold raffle draws and bingo nights to support the parish and its ministries.
Second, we readily turn to the pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in which we discover that: “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 wages 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.” (CCC 2413)
The Church’s statement above is very clear and understandable – as long as the games are played in moderation, so as not to become enslaved by the addiction and evil emotions, and are conducted fairly so no one is cheated, robbed, or unjustly taken advantage of in any other way, then it may be played. This position makes it clear that bet9ja or gambling (as the case may be) is not intrinsically evil, however, it is morally neutral; that is, it is neither bad nor good. It becomes either good or bad in relation to one’s dispositions. The Church understands that when properly controlled, gambling or bets could have positive aspects, such as the provision of legitimate recreation, the generation of funds for acceptable causes, and in some cases, the enhancement of local economies. There are, however, certain principles governing the intentions of the person who gambles as well as the structure of the activity itself which determine its morality in particular situations. Here, we talk about the traditional rules or Catholic teaching on gambling that makes it morally acceptable according to Prummer:
“1. The money or possessions at stake (wagered) are not needed to support one’s family or to fulfil other just obligations.
2. A person participates freely with full knowledge of the pros and cons of the game
3. The revenues derived from gambling are not used to support any fraud, illegal or immoral enterprise.
4. The games of chance are operated fairly and every participant has an equal chance of winning or losing.
5. While everyone enjoys winning, the motive for playing the game should be one of pleasure rather than of gain. One must not depend upon gambling for one’s livelihood.” (cf. Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology).
Dear friends in Christ, when all these conditions are duly met, then, we could say that there is nothing wrong with bej9ja, lottery, pool, gaming or gambling.
Above all, (as stated earlier) there should be no form of addictions to these games, otherwise, it may lead one to invest his resources needed to take care of his needs or that of the family and running a loss, this makes it very sinful. Besides addiction, another big problem emerges when a person thinks he can make quick, easy, big money gambling rather than seeking employment and working hard. Here he accepts great risks that could have dire consequences. Such a condition deteriorates when a person loses money he should use for himself or his family, and even accrues greater debt, leading to sin.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ