Forget about Nevada’s reputation as a state of sin. A priest known locally as Father Charlie regularly celebrates Mass and takes confession in a Laughlin casino.
The Rev. Charlie Urnick, 71, leads his parishioners at the Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. He is also the administrator at the nearby St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Mass is held inside the 700-seat Don’s Celebrity Theater. When not used as a temporary church, it is often the site of musical performances or magic shows.
Finding God in All Things
“The pope says priests should be where the people are,” the Rev. Urnick recently told the Los Angeles Times. “There are 11 casinos in Laughlin, so this is where we have taken our services. And to those who might say that God could not possibly be here, I say he is.”
When asked for comment, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a Jesuit priest who teaches at Boston College and has widely studied gambling trends, recalls how Pope Francis said in 2013 he wanted priests to go out among the flocks and be with the faithful who they serve.
The pope told a crowd of about 10,000 in St. Peter’s basilica during his first “Chrism” Mass priests should be like shepherds, living with “the smell of the sheep.”
Pope Francis wants his priests to ‘smell like their sheep,’” McGowan told Casino.org. “So, Father Charlie is certainly doing that in Vegas.”
McGowan points to a tradition of his own order, the Jesuits, whose motto is to “find God in all things.”
Still, there are some gambling themes associated with Father Charlie.
During the passing of a collection basket some worshipers put in casino chips or slot machine receipts, the AP said.
Church Souvenir Casino Chips
The parish also sells a souvenir chip that is used for fundraising. It says, “Pray with us… It’s a sure bet.” It lists hours for Mass.
The parish also proudly proclaims on its website it is the only US Catholic Church which “meets every weekend in a casino (Riverside Resort, Laughlin, Nevada) so, of course, we have our own casino chips.” The price at the parish gift shop is $3.
To celebrate the parish’s 25th anniversary in 2017, it began to offer silver casino chips, too.
Only a limited supply is offered, and they will not be recast when the original supply is sold. They sell at the gift shop for $7.
In Father Charlie’s church office, visitors will additionally spot two slot machines, with one called the “God Game.”
Masses in the casino commenced in 1992 by Father John McShane. There are now three Masses each weekend in the casino. The regular church offers Masses, as well.
The Rev. Urnick came to Laughlin in 2008. Earlier he served in various clergy roles in his home state of New Jersey, such as Air Force chaplain, teacher and parish priest.
During sermons, he often jokes with parishioners. He also likes to tell stories.
A popular one, recounted by the Times, is when a priest came to visit Laughlin. The visiting priest complained about the sin found in the city, and chastised “all those pathetic old people putting money into machines and they don’t know God.”
To which Father Charlie responded, “Those pathetic old people are my parishioners.”