The Relationship Between Sports Betting And Religion Can Be Complex

Is a devout Catholic allowed to gamble on sports?

That’s the question Detroit Catholic, the digital news service of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, tackled in a recent podcast episode. The answer, it turns out, isn’t a straightforward yes or no. 

The topic sparked interesting dialogue about the relationship between sports betting and religion. Data from Pew Research suggests 70% of Michiganders are Christian, including 20% who identify as Catholic. Almost 25% of the state’s residents don’t practice any religion, according to Pew, and about 5% practice Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or other non-Christian faiths. 

Islam is among the stricter religions when it comes to gambling, as language in the Quran condems gambling. Other religions tend to have more complicated views on gambling, reflecting some varying views on the morality of sports betting, even among people of the same faith. 

Gambling not necessarily wrong for Catholics

Betting $20 on the Detroit Tigers to beat the Kansas City Royals or placing a friendly wager with a peer on the result of the next at-bat isn’t problematic for Catholics, according to moral theologian Peter Ryan. In fact, wagers can even build a sense of community when viewing a game. 

“Gambling can intensify interest and participation in various things, so [when] you’re watching a sports game, you’re finding it more interesting and people kind of get involved and excited about it,” Ryan said on Detroit Catholic’s podcast. “It can make your involvement more gratifying. That can be good if it’s a really, genuinely [recreational] activity. Good recreation is a humanly good thing.” 

Absolutely. All in moderation and in a spirit of fun. Some of the best nights are our Catholic School Vegas Nights.

— Anthony Sahadi (@anthony_sahadi) April 6, 2022

There are some caveats for what qualifies as healthy recreation, Ryan noted. He stressed that bettors need to wager responsibly and legally, ensuring the activity doesn’t become a dangerous and destructive habit. 

Patrick Kelly, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, mentioned on the podcast that Catholics shouldn’t view sports as a path to fame or wealth. Instead, the bettors or athletes should focus on the community-building aspects of athletics. He also cautioned against rooting for injuries or anything removing humanity from the sports-viewing experience. 

“The bettor is removed from the game itself in some ways,” Kelly said. “You’re paying attention to what you’re going to get out of it in terms of financial reward.” 

Generally speaking, the podcast host and guests made gambling seem acceptable for Catholics, assuming they aren’t gambling more than they can afford and that they’re viewing sports betting as a recreational activity.

Addictive behavior often considered immoral

While the vast majority of sports bettors aren’t addicted to wagering, it occurs with some. The habits that come with sports betting addiction can be dangerous and destructive, and those behaviors are often viewed as immoral by religious groups.

The potentially addictive aspect of gambling is why some religious leaders speak against the activity in the first place. Nobody begins gambling with the intention of becoming addicted, but if someone falls into that category, it’s worth seeking help, and Michigan has several resources for problem gamblers. 

In many religions, there’s discretion involved when it comes to allowing gambling. A certain level of betting, like responsible gaming on a national sportsbook app or participating in a charity poker tournament, may be considered allowable, while addictive betting may be considered immoral behavior. 

Ryan suggested Catholic sports bettors evaluate their feelings to help guide their decision-making process. 

“Does it leave us feeling joyful and adding meaning to our life, or does it leave us feeling dry and dissatisfied?” Ryan said. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Author: Bradley King