Jean Raber November 16, 2006 - 10:25am
One state ballot issue that has received little attention nationwide is Arkansas' vote to overturn a ban on charitable gambling, which includes Bingo.
Arkansas Catholic churches had been running Bingo games, possibly in ignorance of the state ban, but the Diocese imposed a moratorium when an Arkansan sheriff investigated complaints from concerned citizens in 2004. The moratorium cut off an important source of funding for the state's Catholic schools and churches.
Catholics make up about 4 percent of Arkansas' population.
Catholic churches can reopen their Bingo halls once the state Legislature crafts a law that regulates the newly-legalized operations. (There isn't much news about this at the Diocese of Arkansas, but I did enjoy reading Msgr. Gaston Herbert's columns, especially "There is a land far away with few priests.")
While the Bingo vote seems to be a small victory for Catholics in a state that has sometimes persecuted its Catholic minority--during the 1920s, a convent and monastery act gave the state the power to go in to "inspect" religious houses anytime they wanted to for no reason--it underscores the reliance many parishes have on Bingo as a source of funding.
Maybe it's just me having one of my Protestant Moments, but Bingo has always struck me as a blight on the Catholic landscape here in the rural upper Midwest.
I understand the need for funding sources--our parish collection amounts to about two-thirds of what we need to operate, and I presume the rest comes from Bingo, though our parish council keeps pretty mum about what Bingo actually brings in.
But like the Michigan Lottery, Bingo seems to attract those who can least afford to gamble--mostly the elderly who are already living on limited incomes. As a form of entertainment, Bingo is about on par with sorting socks. And parishioners are dunned at our parish to get out and work Bingo far more often than they are encouraged to participate in hospice, respite care, food bank, and other activities that would benefit the community and raise awareness of the Church within our little town.
So, Catholics, why Bingo? Anybody want to explain? Defend? Or, at the very least, share your favorite Catholic Bingo joke? If we gotta have it, we might as well keep our sense of humor about it.