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Jesuit Father Richard McGowan and the Study of Vice

May 13, 2015 — In El Salvador, where he travels a few times a year for missionary work, Jesuit Father Richard McGowan is nicknamed “Padre Pecado” — the “Priest of Sin” — due to his status as a leading expert on the economics of tobacco, alcohol and especially gambling. The Boston College professor puts much of his time into the study of vice.

Fr. McGowan is regularly quoted in newspaper articles, both local and national, offering perspective about the casino industry and public gambling policy. He’s served as a consultant to help states explore casino and lottery regulations, with his pay for the work going to the Jesuits at BC and in El Salvador. “I did take a vow of poverty,” he said.

Most of his work — on gambling and other vices — has centered on how public policy and the relevant industries interact, such as how cities benefit from state revenue derived from the lottery, or the economic effect of excise taxes. He is also interested in questions with less tangible answers, such as how states deal with potential consequences from the vice industries, like addiction. “The real problem for policy makers are the social costs,” he said. “How do you measure them?”

His missionary work brings him three times a year to El Salvador, where he focuses on microfinance projects that help locals secure funding to start small businesses such as chicken or cocoa farms. He also teaches at a university in El Salvador.

He’s also a regular at big gaming conferences, though he doesn’t always love the setting. “I hate Vegas. I like studying why people gamble. But I myself am bored to death [by gambling].”

When it comes to studying gambling, alcohol, tobacco and the like, Fr. McGowan considers himself an “observationist.” He acknowledges that there’s some irony in studying things that, even if not decidedly sinful by the church’s standard, are generally seen as opposed to its values. But that’s part of the point of the Jesuits’ scholarly mission, he said.

“We’re men of the church, but we’re expected to be on the margins of the church. Do I wish we didn’t have to have casinos? Probably. But to be realistic, they’re going to be here.” [Source: Boston.com]





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