My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The government has recently reviewed the law prohibiting online gambling; allowing Singapore Pools to operate online gambling with restrictions.
Whilst we share the concerns of many Singaporeans on the moral and social implications of gambling on society, especially on the family and in particular on the impending invasion of this potential vice into the sacred space of our homes, I wish to take this opportunity to enlighten you on the teachings of the Church concerning gambling, and to apprise you on our engagements with the authorities on the matter.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.2413, ‘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 wagers 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.’
Effects on society
In any form of state or public policy, the Church stands not only for the protection of every person’s individual rights but also the promotion of the good of all in society. The effects of excessive gambling go beyond affecting just an individual, especially if the gambler is a bread winner. Family life and loving marriages can be destroyed or disrupted by the loss of income which could lead to stress, other mental health issues and even suicide. In an attempt to pay up mounting debt; theft, drug trafficking, cheating and even prostitution are desperate measures taken by gamblers who feel they have no other means out of their situation. Children and elderly members of the family soon become innocent victims of the scourge of gambling.
It is in this respect that the Catholic Church remains concerned about the possible ill-effects of a ‘gambling culture’ that could grip Singaporeans. While we maintain that gambling is morally neutral, any adverse effects on our people need to be carefully considered, since not all gamblers are able to make prudent or conscientious judgement of their actions – most or all of the time.
This is especially true with regard to bringing online gambling into the comfort, convenience and privacy of the home where there is even greater temptation and opportunity for gambling to become a compulsive habit.
Engagement with the government
The Catholic Church in Singapore appreciates that the Government has done its due diligence to ensure that stringent measures are put in place to minimize the ill-effects of online gambling. Nevertheless, we have urged the Government to continually review the measures to ensure that the safeguards keep pace with developments in the online and social environment so that they remain effective in protecting individuals from falling into financial difficulty and preserving the peace and security of the family from excesses incurred as a result of unbridled gambling habits.
We also recognise that the authorities have taken pains to consult, clarify and assure us that this move to allow restricted access to online gambling operators and their services is one that has been taken only after careful study of the environment and in consideration of the greater good of society. Hence, notwithstanding our reservations as to whether this is the best course of action, given that there is no way to totally eradicate illegal gambling online; and the risks such a move could have on the moral integrity and fabric of our society, we also recognize the Government's dilemma in tackling this highly sensitive and controversial issue that continues to plague modern society.
Call for continuous monitoring of gambling situation
Recognizing that the stakes are high, the Catholic Church has appealed to the authorities to closely monitor the effectiveness of the move whilst taking all necessary measures to help those who may fall victim to online gambling. Furthermore, we have requested for more regular consultation and updates on the consequences of this Act.
Finally, as in tackling other societal ills, only the active participation of all citizenry, including the Government, civil society and religious organisations working together constructively and continuously can minimize the ill-effects of gambling in Singapore and on her people. As Church, it behooves us to not only speak out against any moves that threaten to destroy the well-being of our families, but more importantly, to work with those in charge to find lasting solutions to the problems facing our society.
Yours devotedly in the Lord,
Most Rev William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore