People often seem surprised to think of priests being like everyone else, with family, friends, and hobbies. But if a priest didn’t have friends and never did things apart from his priestly ministry, then he would probably burn out and end up of no use to anyone! In my case, for fun I like to hang out with friends and do things such as watch good movies, play strategy games, and play sports like paintball. I also enjoy friendly games of Texas Hold’Em poker. Whenever I go home to see my parents and sister, we always get a very competitive game going, and also about once a week I get together with some people my age and play a game for fun.
So last month I was very interested to read about a new television show that FOX was putting together, a kind of poker game show starring Daniel Negreanu, one of the best poker players in the world (he’s also one of the most fun pros to watch.) It will be called “Pokerstars.net Million Dollar Challenge,” with twenty-one contestants chosen from across the US and Canada. Each contestant will be coached by Negreanu as they play increasingly difficult celebrity and professional opponents one-on-one. The contestants that make it all the way through the different challenges will earn a seat at the table at the last episode, where the winner receives a million dollars!
Our parish, St. Michael, is in the final stages of fundraising for a new church building which we very desperately need. So I thought to myself, “How cool would that be, to try to get on the show and see if I could win a million dollars, and donate it to our church fund?” And even if I didn’t win any money, it would be an opportunity for people across the country to see that there are still young men choosing to be priests, and that one can be joy-filled and have fun as one serves God! (And of course, it would be a blast!)
It turns out that to qualify on the show you must play in special online poker tournaments sponsored by the show. The tournaments are free to enter, with ten thousand people playing at a time. The last ten people standing (out of 10,000!) in each tournament win the right to submit a two-minute audition video for the show. Miraculously, on August 31st I actually qualified in the top ten! With my pastor’s go-ahead, my friends and I taped the two-minute audition video over Labor Day weekend, aided by the digital wizardry of two of our college students (thanks, Bernadette and Carrie!). And then the most important step of all: I had to ask the permission of our new bishop, Bishop Guglielmone! Providentially, he was in town visiting the local priests and I was able to speak with him and show him the video. He ended up liking the video and thinks that it could be a great opportunity, so he told me to go for it!
So if you would like to see the video, you can follow the link at the top of the page. There is also a FAQ about the gameshow, and below are answers to some questions that people may have. God bless you! ~ Fr. Andrew
Q: What does the Catholic Church teach about games like poker?
The Catholic Church teaches in its Catechism 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.” (CCC 2413) In other words, in normal circumstances it is not sinful to buy a lottery ticket, buy raffle tickets, or play a slot machine or table game at a casino. Gambling can be a sin, though, if one allows it to be excessive, for example, if a man took his entire paycheck to the casino and risked leaving his family without anything to eat for the month. So the Catholic approach to games of chance is kind of like our approach to drinking—there is normally nothing wrong with drinking a beer or glass of wine, but it is morally wrong to drink to excess and become drunk.
Q: Are Catholic priests allowed to play poker?
With the above understanding, it follows that in normal circumstances a priest could buy a lottery ticket or play a game of poker without any moral problem, just like he could morally drink a Bud Light without any problem. Like all Christians, a priest would have to follow the laws of the state and nation as regards those things, as we are called to follow all laws that are just. With my family and friends, we play for fun, to enjoy each other’s company and have bragging rights, like Clemson beating up on the University of South Carolina.
Q: Would it cost money to play on the show?
The PokerStars show is a gameshow just like Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Only instead of advancing by correctly answering trivia questions, the contestants advance by playing opponents one-on-one in Texas Hold’em poker. (It could easily have been Uno instead, and been named “The UnoStars Million Dollar Challenge!”) I used some of my yearly-allotted vacation time to go out for the taping, and the show paid for all of our traveling expenses. So no, it did not cost me or our parish anything for me to compete on the gameshow.
Q: Our South Carolina churches are not allowed to fundraise by games of chance like raffles and bingo. How can Saint Michael’s then receive money from a poker-themed gameshow?
The easy answer is to imagine if a minister were to win fifty thousand dollars, say, on Jeopardy, or millions of dollars after buying a state lottery ticket. He is then free to donate that money however he sees fit, including to his own church. The same would apply in this case. If I as a priest were to be on such a show and win a prize, I would pay taxes and then be free to donate the remainder to whatever cause I desired.
Q: So you won $100,000 already. What is next, and do you have to risk losing that money to continue on?
No, the $100,000 is guaranteed and is going into our building fund. As I understand it, four contestants will be flown out to LA in early December to tape the final episode. We will play a four-way game of Texas Hold’em, with the winner receiving an additional $100,000. That person then plays Daniel Negreanu for the second time. If the contestant loses, he keeps the $100,000. If the contestants beats Negreanu, then the $100k becomes a $1,000,000! So if all of that miraculously happens to me, then I will have won a total of $1.1 million to donate to the new church fund.
update 9/23/09 : I found out that I am going to be on the show! They are flying us out for filming on Oct 4-5. Please say a prayer that represent the priesthood well, and if it’s God’s will, maybe even win some money for our new church!
update 10/5/09 : Filming went great and I will be on the first episode, airing Sunday October 11th on FOX, before or after NFL game!
update 10/11/09 : I won $100k and will be heading back for a chance to win a million for the building fund!
update 12/27/09 : I came in runner-up against former NY policeman Mike Kosowski, who went on to win a million against Daniel Negreanu!