GARDEN CITY — Father Andrew Trapp is hoping a big boost for the building fund at St. Michael Church is in the cards — the cards he used recently on a poker-themed game show.
Father Trapp, the church’s parochial vicar, traveled to Los Angeles Oct. 3-5 to appear on the first episode of PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge, a new game show on the Fox network. He can’t reveal the results, but everyone will see how he did when the PokerStars program airs later in the month.
His role as the poker-playing priest came about simply because the game is one of his many hobbies, which include watching movies, playing strategy games, soccer and paintball.
He became a poker buff several years ago, playing the Texas Hold ‘Em variety with his parents and sister, then with fellow seminarians. These days he plays about once a week with friends.
“It’s always been just something to do for fun,” Father Trapp said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “Even Jesus relaxed and had a good time with his friends.”
He learned about the Fox show during the summer. The format is simple: 21 contestants from the United States and Canada will be coached by professional poker champion Daniel Negreanu as they play increasingly difficult opponents. Those who make it through the challenges earn a seat at the table on the last episode, where they’ll play for $1 million.
Father Trapp said he immediately thought the program would be a great way to raise money for a new church building, and to show that priests could have fun while serving God.
To qualify, he had to finish in the top ten out of 10,000 players in an online poker tournament sponsored by the show, and then submit a two-minute audition video.
After his video was complete, Father Trapp showed it to Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone at a meeting, and received approval to try out.
“He really liked it, and thought this was a great opportunity to show the priesthood in a different light, to show that priests can enjoy themselves like other people,” Father Trapp said.
He found out in late September that he had been chosen to play. PokerStars pays for two friends to come along and support the contestant. Trapp took his good friends John and Lisette Velasquez, whom he met when he was parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton. Velasquez said Father Trapp taught the couple how to play Texas Hold ‘Em, and they would get together for a weekly game.
“We’re really excited for him,” Velasquez said. “At first we were kind of skeptical he was going to be able to beat 10,000 other players online to get there, but we said ‘shoot for it and see what happens.’” The couple, who are expecting their first child, were also in the audition video.
Father Trapp said some people may question whether a priest is allowed to play poker, especially since many Christian denominations discourage gambling and games of chance. He said the PokerStars format is similar to other game shows such as “Jeopardy” or “The Price is Right,” with contestants using poker wins to move through each round to the finals. No betting is involved.
On his Web site, www.saintfactory.com, he cited a passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states games of chance are not bad unless they “deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others.”
“The church’s teaching generally is that it’s not sinful to play games of chance, but it is wrong, for instance, to gamble away your whole paycheck,” he said. “It’s the same with the stance on alcohol. Drinking a glass of wine or a beer isn’t wrong, but drinking to excess is.”
He said that he will have to pay taxes on any prize money he wins, and whatever is left over will be donated directly to his parish.
“I hope this helps young viewers to see that a person can give his or her life to Christ, serve God and still have fun and enjoy time with friends,” Father Trapp said. “Whatever hobbies and interests we have, God can use those as a way of spreading the Gospel.”
The program is set to air at 3 p.m. Oct. 11.