Hi. I'm the Casino Priest

James Grant reveals that gambling problems are not the biggest issue he faces

Father James Grant is the Casino Priest. As such a title suggests, the Melbourne-based Catholic leader admits to being a bit of an outsider.

Jobless as a school chaplain, he decided to try and sell his skills in the corporate sector – the least travelled path for a priest.

“I tend to deal with what’s gone wrong in life and life questions …” – James Grant

After two years of pestering various companies, Melbourne’s Crown Casino caved into his request. “I really fell into this by accident,” explains Grant about his highly unusual role.

“I needed a job and no one was going to give me one and I started to knock on business doors. I talked my way in.”

The catalyst for Crown finally giving into Grant’s lobbying was that they needed his help in an unexpected way. After someone died on the premises, Chinese restaurant managers and employees in the South Bank casino would no longer work.

“So I went in and blessed the building and threw some holy water around and they were all happy and they went back!” Grant says of a bizarre incident that led to the instalment of, possibly, the only chaplain of a casino in the world.

When Grant tells people that he works for a casino, he thinks that they must assume he is there to help problem gamblers. But it’s much more than that.

“There are 9000 staff here,” says Grant, speaking with Eternity outside Crown Casino. “There are staff problems, and that’s all the problems that go with normal human experience: break ups, problems at homes, problems with children. I do a little bit of that. And, finally, of course there’s the patrons – people who have lost their money and people who might be angry and frustrated by what their experience has been.”

According to Grant, the biggest problem isn’t people throwing huge amounts of money into machines. It’s what brings people to the casino in the first place.

“I tend to deal with what’s gone wrong in life and life questions and my argument would be that most gambling problems disappear when you fix those things,” says Grant. “Attendance at a gaming venue is not necessarily because people are addicted to gaming but they go there as an escape, or they go there because they’re bored, or they go there because they’re unloved at home or they don’t feel good about themselves. There’s a whole host of reasons. So most people, in my view, are gaming for those reasons.”

“Work is the great issue that faces us …” – James Grant

Many casinos do have counselling services but Grant says he brings something unique and surprisingly popular to the job – his Christian ministry.

“I’m often surprised at the number of people that come back to talk about ‘Who am I?’ questions which have always got God in it.”

Grant finds the people that come to see him will bring up the ‘God question’ regardless of their religious or cultural background. If they don’t, he says he brings it up because it’s something they need to address.

Something Grant would like to see get more attention is unemployment, which he believes is the strongest link between problem gambling and the ‘God question’.

“Work is the great issue that faces us because without work, how do I get married? Without a reliable job, how do I buy a house? How do I start a family? How do I join a parish and join a community group? How do I put money in the plate [at church]?”

Youth unemployment in Australia is around 11 per cent, something Grant can’t bear to see. If people aren’t working, Grant has observed that it is difficult for them to have a relationship with God.

“We do very little in the world of work,” says Grant of Christians being intentionally involved in workplace ministries. “We don’t have chaplains in work places; we don’t have many work programmes. In fact, I can’t think of any that exist in any [Australian Catholic] dioceses.

“We agitate for the unemployment benefit to go up but we don’t get people work themselves.’

“Chaplains in business are a bit freaky for some.” – James Grant

As a consequence, James used his role and connections as a corporate chaplain to start a not-for-profit organisation called the Father James Grant Foundation. It helps young Australians and immigrants to find work and Grant receives no financial help from Crown Casino. He relies on private donations to support the Foundation.

His hope is more ministers or lay people in the church will recognise the need to address this issue and get involved.

“Chaplains in business are a bit freaky for some,” says Grant. “Most dioceses would go ‘well we haven’t got enough priests anyway.’ It may well be there needs to be a charism of lay people who do this because I do think that until we make connections with the world of work, we won’t have the solutions. We can talk about upping the unemployment benefit but we’re not actually making a difference to the number of unemployed and the kind of work they do.”

Fr James Grant is part of the Anglican Ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church. He’s married with one daughter and is now chaplain to a range of corporations. He was a parish priest in Anglican churches in the UK and Germany for many years and also started two Anglican schools on the Indian subcontinent.

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