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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.



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I'll accept your challenge.Some 40-odd years ago, our parish had a novena every Tuesday night. At the same time, the weekly bingo game was going on downstairs. Our church was just a few blocks from a (then brand new) public housing project. I guess the parish needed the bingo revenue to make up for what many of the parishioners could not afford to give.

Yah, but who was participating in Bingo, Joe? The folks from the housing project? Aren't these the people we're supposed to be helping instead of squeezing money out of?Or am I missing something here?

Interesting post. On principle, I support exemptions like this. But as someone who grew up with the Protestant belief that gambling is presumptively immoral, I remain baffled that Catholic parishes affirmatively support bingo. How pathetic is it to depend for funds on wasting people's time in a completely unproductive activity where some of them spend money that they can't afford?

When the District of Columbia introduced the lottery about twenty years ago, a hotshort TV reporter interviewed an elderly black gentleman who was waiting on line to buy a ticket: "Sir," she said, "don't you realize that your odds of winning are very, very poor?" "Well, ma'am," he replied: "they's a lot worse if I don't buy a ticket!"

Although I am a Catholic and remember Bingo in my elementary school days, I do not really approve of games of chance. I could imagine gambling only with a game in which skill was a significant element, but I do not have the mind of a card counter or the skills, whatever they are, of a poker player.

IS anyone out there over 70?Come to our assisted living place on Wedensday afternoon or Saturday nite( early) and play bingo for a 35 cent prize coveted by everybody. It pays for your $.25 entry.I was, as a girl, a trustee in a parish that a clerical financial genius brought from chaos into order and balance. We had Bingo on friday nite officially starting at 6PM. The hardworking ladies(may we someday be recognized) made sandwiches, coffee, and cookies for sale to add to the parish coffers. Most players arrived at 5 PM so we had to start an early game to keep them amused.Unfortunately, the evening began to lose money as we did not have enuf customers, gambling odds being what they are the parish began to lose money!!! I assumed that our financial genius pastor would say " dump it". To my delight he said "this is an important event for these parishioners and others to relate to others:" The game kept going at a loss until the parish council made a real stink.Bingo may not be an intellectible challenge but fotr an evening out for less than $10 tell me about your experience.

I'm with marybergan on this. Who says it's an unproductive activity? Having a couple of bucks down on a game of chance that takes 15 or 20 minutes to play is harmless fun. Is it any more an unproductive activity than watching an episode of Oprah?

I don't have any problem with Bingo night. My grandmother lived with us for several years before she died, and it was a difficult adjustment.My mother started taking her to Bingo nights at the parish and it eased a lot of her discomfort. My grandmother made new friends, got out of the house for a few hours, caught up on the neighborhood gossip and news.... It wasn't even $1 a game, I don't think.

Ordinarily I find myself in agreement with Joseph Gannon and Jean Raber. Not about bingo though! As a kid from a poor town I regularly went with my Cajun aunt to the Blue Light Inn for bingo. It was always primarily a social occasion, especially for married women whose housework left them precious little time to socialize.My wife has a 90 year old aunt who still gets to an Atlantic City casino occasionally. It's a breath of fresh air for her.My south Louisiana roots just won't let me think that unless I'm doing something certifiably "good for me" there must be somethiing wrong with it.This is not an argument for casinos or professional gambling. But church bingo is less bad for your soul, I'd guess, than fantast football, etc.

Hmm. I usually agree with Bernard, Joe and Jean, but I guess I come down in the middle somewhere this time. On the one hand, I know that in the local nursing home, there is definitely a body of people who find a Bingo session a satisfying way to socialize. In our area, fewer Catholic Churches use Bingo to raise serious money than in past years. More common is an annual Carnival, with rides and food, and games run in cooperation with some professionals. One local church is reported to have made nearly $100,000 in one weekend. The well-off parishioners dont spend there out of their need, but since the event draws customers from far and near, it may be that some less affluent people do. Providing a low-key social event for a few older parishioners is one thing, and if that is what a Bingo Night is all about, fine. But a high-powered professional-level operation that brings in significant profit is taking that unreasonable profit from someone, and paying the pros something. And at the point where a substantial take is the main aim, it seems to me, there is something off about the practice. Besides, those Bingo signs on the Churches always do look tacky. Add to them the parish financial campaign thermometer signs and the agents of the Knights of Columbus selling raffle tickets for unimpeachably good causes out front on Sundays and who could blame our Protestant neighbors for getting the impression Catholics are excessively interested in collecting money from the flock?

Thanks to Mary Bergan and Bernard for offering the "other side" of Bingo.But, at the risk of sounding like the the Music Man--you got Bingo and that starts with B and that rhymes with T and that stands for TROUBLE!--it behooves parishes to look at how much time and energy Bingo siphons away from other activities that might make more of an impact in the community.The local Methodists have a Friday night dinner roast beef dinner. It's a $5 donation. Some people can't pay. Some people pay double to cover those who can't.They've paid off their church hall debt through those suppers. And provided a social outlet and fed the hungry as well.

Good points all. I should note that parish volunteers staffed our bingo games back then. I have less of a problem with a genuine church/charity operation than with commercial ventures, some of which supposedly give some of the proceeds to "charities."Regarding the merits of a "dinner" vs. a "bingo" to raise money for a church, my limited experience shows folks eating and leaving, on the one hand, versus lingering awhile to play the game.Another point to remember: many Catholic churches still have schools to support whereas Protestant congregations typically do not.Another issue of contention for some folks: beer at church picnics, etc.

Now wait just a gosh darn minute, Joe. Slamming Bingo is one thing, but beer at church picnics is just over the line.I have a much-loved set of plastic beer cups with pictures of the saints on them that I got at a church picnic.My husband put some in the dishwasher and MELTED St. Anthony and St. Therese of Lisieux. When I expressed my dismay, he said, "They're just plastic cups."I think that's some type of venial sin at least.

I have to concede that if people play bingo to socialize, I do not see how anyone could object.

Venial sin? That would be a mortal sin for some folks I know :)In my diocese a few years ago, there was a lot of discussion for awhile about the "bad example" and behavioral problems associated with beer at church picnics, etc. I think a few parishes banned beer, but I don't recall if the bishop made any decision on the issue.Perhaps moderation is the name of the game.

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