Gambling

June 26, 2005 | 80 comments
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Today’s Elder Quorum topic was gambling. Like Calvin Coolidge, like President Hinckley, we were against it.

As a quorum, we concluded that the gambling is defined by three separate evils. The first is the evil of get-rich-quick, of something-for-nothing. The second is the evil of no-value-added, your-loss-is-my-gain, I-want-you-to-lose-in-this-zero-sum game. The third evil (I’m going to have to drop the hyphens because its less familiar) is the dirty thrill of taking serious risks. It’s the illicit and cheap creation of a sense of adventure and moment, by unnecessarily putting things at risk. We concluded that the more an activity approached all three of these evils–in other words, the more like high stakes betting it was–, the worse it was. What do you think?

In my private musings, I thought it was interesting how close each of these undoubted evils was to something the gospel teaches us is good. We don’t believe in getting rich quick but we do believe that God intends to reward us far beyond our worth. “Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price,” Christ says. Then He adds that salvation is free. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon we’re told that many refuse eternal life because of the “easiness of the way.

The zero-sum evil, the evil of rejoicing in another’s defeat, is less obviously parallel to a gospel good. I think there is a parallel, but it would take me too long to explain, and I’m saving the explanation for a long post that will rile up the feminists and the pacifists. So I’ll just suggest now that God and Satan are locked in a struggle for each individual soul that they both cannot win. Every influence Satan gains over a person is an influence that God is denied.

Finally, though the willingness to risk is an evil in gambling, it isn’t when it comes to sacrifice. We admire people who are willing to endanger things they value highly for the gospel’s sake and for others. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Moreover, as Shakespeare’s merchant sailors recognized in The Merchant of Venice, a certain amount of refusal to take risks with the things one values is in essence a refusal to trust oneself to God. “Take therefore no thought for the morrow.”

Thinking through the ways in which these evils differ from the goods they parallel proved a very instructive exercise for me. Perhaps it will for you too.

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For more discussion of President Hinckley’s talk on gambling, scroll down here.

For a discussion of betting on violence, see here (warning: it gets pretty heavy).

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80 Responses to Gambling

  1. Jack on June 27, 2005 at 12:03 am

    Adam,

    Can the difference between the two boil down to who is being served by the act? In other words, the risk involved in gambling, no matter how great, tends to be self serving. While the kinds of sacrifices that we make in living the gospel generally have to do with others.

  2. Mark N. on June 27, 2005 at 2:59 am

    Ah, but how much of life is involved with risk in some way or another? Should I take a job with Company A which has been around for 30 years and is nice and stable and steady and a dependable source of income, or should I go work for the start-up which will give me stock options that could turn out to be very lucrative, should the business plan succeed?

    How many decisions do we face, not knowing the outcome, and which may make dramatic differences in our lives depending on the choice we make? Theoretically, we can pray about the decision and get help in making the right choice, but I think it’s a safe bet that there are plenty of faithful Mormons out there who have prayed for help in a decision, and were disappointed in the outcome, unsure after the fact if they made the right decision after all.

    There’s a story (whether it’s true or not, I don’t know) about a person or group of people that had created a device that could tell you which quarter of the wheel the roulette ball would land on, based on the timing of the speed of the wheel and the release of the ball. They were able to make bets that would pay off at 35 to 1 pay off more often because they could consistently eliminate 3/4 of the numbers from their bets because they knew they were not likely to have any chance to win.

    Now (assuming the story to be true), that’s not gambling: they found a way to beat the casino at their own game and turned the odds in their own favor. Over the long run, they were guaranteed to come out ahead. Is that a sin? I suppose so, from the “something-for-nothing” point of view. But you could argue the “nothing” aspect of their actions: they had studied it out, built some electronic gadgets that turned out to work pretty reliably, and became richer for it. They had invested time and effort and thought in order to create the devices in a cooperative effort to get rich. They had very much invested “something” in their plan. Did they “cheat”? If the house rigs the odds of the game so that the house will always win in the long run (which is what casino games are all about), is the house cheating?

  3. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 8:24 am

    Adam,

    Interesting post. In these discussions, I always want to ask whether the proposed definition of the evil of gambling can adequately distinguish between approved and unapproved activities–like you do with the gospel. These proposed three evils, for example, quite clearly apply to short-selling stock. However, I haven’t yet heard that Latter-day Saints should avoid short-selling (or the other business activities with these three characteristics). This leads me to conclude, first, that these three don’t capture the problem with gambling–and possibly that these three characteristics aren’t, in fact, evils at all.

  4. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 9:20 am

    It is very easy to use stock trading as a form of gambling, since the returns become more volatile as the horizon shortens what a stock does in the next hour is pretty much anyone’s guess. But one can also buy a stock bundle of stocks and hold them and get rid of a huge amount of that risk. And the return is not based on stripping away from someone else. It is based on the fact that the stock represents part of a productive company producing something of value. Potentially, shorting stocks could be part of such a portfolio, in order to reduce one’s exposure to risk. So while I absolutely agree that some people use the stock market like a roulette wheel, Stock purchases need not be any more of a risky, thrill seeking endeavor than crossing the street.

  5. Roasted Tomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Frank,

    Being the dealer at a blackjack table, or being the house that owns a roulette wheel, is also not a risk in the long run. The law of large numbers from statistics tells us that, over the thousands of transactions the house goes through, observed winning percentages will closely match underlying probabilities–which favor the dealer/house. So running gambling establishments is a sound long-term investment. Probably more so than shorting stocks. Hence, the soundness of the investment or the degree of risk involved cannot distinguish between legitimate investing activities and gambling. Our moral objections to gambling must seek other grounds.

  6. Pris on June 27, 2005 at 10:06 am

    Not all gambling falls into the “something-for-nothing” category. While one could get lucky and make a significant amount for a small starting wager (i.e. state lotto or keno), to be successful at most games requires a good deal of skill (i.e. poker or blackjack or even horse racing). Many people who make money at gambling long-term (in the end, most end up losing money) have spent time and effort to learn the game (or stats, as in sports betting) and to minimize the amount of variance. In essence, the players have developed a skill and are using it to make money; so it is wrong to characterize all gambling as “something for nothing.”

    Also, gamblers (again, those that are successful at it) don’t generally take big, serious, risks. Sure, there is a thrill associated with the act, but, as I previously said, is tempered by the skill, so the risk (ideally) is minimized and the reward maximized. Those that do take big, serious, risks without the skill have a problem and should get some help. As it is, the way it’s presented in the post sounds similar to “all drinkers are alcoholics.”

    I think the zero-sum point is the strongest of the three.

  7. lyle stamps on June 27, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Adam:

    Please explain how gambling with the “entertainment” portion of an individual’s budget, is per se bad. That eliminates your third and first evil. Budgeting isn’t a serious risk. Entertainment isn’t something for nothing.

  8. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 10:56 am

    Lyle,

    President Hinckley specifically ruled this one out in his talk. As best I can tell he is saying that it is a form of entertainment we should avoid as being being evil. Perhaps akin to many of the other forms of entertainment God asks us to avoid.

  9. gst on June 27, 2005 at 11:05 am

    I concur that the “dirty thrill of taking serious risks” is an evil, and for that reason I do not bungee jump or sky dive. Also, I’m a coward.

  10. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Frank,

    Shorting stocks does produce income that derives directly from other people’s losses. Your gain is due entirely to the fact that other people bought a stock for more than it is worth and/or sold it for less. The income you get comes right out of their (collective) pockets. So this objection doesn’t seem workable to me as a distinction between gambling and this particular investment move.

    Nor does the argument about long-run risk. Being the dealer at a blackjack table, or the house that owns a roulette wheel, has essentially no long-term risk, because of the statistical law of large numbers. In effect, gambling need not be any riskier than walking across the street, either.

    I would conclude from this that gambling is morally wrong for reasons other than its zero-sum nature (which also applies to some approved activites) and its risk (which doesn’t always apply to gambling).

  11. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 11:33 am

    I’ve tried replying twice on this, but my comments are being filtered out due to a content filter. Suffice it to say, although I can’t spell it out due to the spam filter, that I find Frank’s response unsatisfactory. The law of large numbers means some sides of games have no long-term risk, just like a careful investor. And shorting stocks does take money directly from the (collective) pockets of other investors.

  12. ADMIN on June 27, 2005 at 11:55 am

    Sorry about the confusion, all. We get a ton of spam from online gambling sites (on the order of 500+ comments a day, most days) and our moderation software will flag any comment containing words like “poker” “blackjack” “roulette” and so forth. That makes it a little hard to communicate on this thread.

    Alas, the alternative is a blog which is so flooded with spam that it’s impossible to communicate on any thread.

    We’ll be approving comments in this thread as quickly as we see them stack up. (I’m going to have to go approve this one). Also, if you’re using a gambling term, it can help to misspell it or substitute in numbers. Those don’t generally trigger the filter.

  13. ADMIN on June 27, 2005 at 11:56 am

    For example (and I sure hope that our spammers aren’t reading this), you can write:

    Online gam-bling is a problem. People pok-er and black-jack and rou-lette and they lose money.

    and it won’t be flagged.

  14. Melissa Madsen Fox on June 27, 2005 at 11:58 am

    We had this same lesson in RS yesterday. Everyone was agreeing with (and not really talking about) everything the teacher said about gambilng: it’s evil, it’s addictive, it’s a slippery slope. Then an investigator piped up. She said she went to the casinos, mostly for the enterainment of it, but also because the local indian reservation here (we’re in Spokane right now) has lost income from a ban on the sale of fireworks and she feels bad and wants to help. She knows the risks involved, that she might lose a bundle, and she has decided that she can avoid becoming addicted. In short, she believes she’s doing a good by gambling on the indian reservation.

    I thought that was an interesting take on gambling.

  15. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    RT,

    If GBH tells us not to short stocks, I’m fine with that. But I don’t see him so much as mentioning the stock market, so apparently that was not the area of prime concern.

    1. Is gambling an untenable risk for the gambling house? Obviously not. I don’t think this has ever been advanced as an argument. The risk is for those on the other side who do not engage in enough transactions to generate asymptotic results.

    2. Do stock transactions have a zero sum element to them? Of course. Almost every transaction has a zero sum element because the amount of money exchanged is determined by the parties involved. Stocks are no different. But that zero-sum element needn’t be the dominant one like it is in gambling.

    If I buy a car, the better I do on the price, the less the dealer gets. But we can both be better off because I want a car and the dealer wants money. In stocks I might be ready to have cash instead of stocks so I can go buy a car. The buyer is ready to invest. I trade future gains for current consumption. We can both be better off from this. In gambling the only way for us both to gain is to value the entertainment gained by the loser from the act of gambling. GBH seems to be saying in his talk that that gain is illusory and so gambling is truly zero-sum.

    Shorting stocks means I offer to take the risk of a stock away from someone and they get a guaranteed return on the stock. If I have other stocks that help me deal with that risk better than the seller of the short, then we both can gain. Obviously, once the stock goes up or down then one of us wins and one of us loses. But that is us trying to deal with risk that exists in the world, not risk that we created for entertainment purposes. Hence the transaction ex ante needn’t be zero-sum.

    Your approach would suggest that insurance is also zero-sum, because either the insurance company pays me more than I pay or the reverse. But once again, insurance is a net gain for both parties because one of us is able to deal with the risk institutionally better than the other. Gambling is about creating risk solely for entertainment. It is not obvious that God finds that okay.

    Also, we may have different beliefs about how stocks will perform. That may be okay as well if we are profiting or losing from our ability to make wise investment decisions. But the Lord does not seem to find the wisdom of the gambler to be a noble return worth cultivating.

  16. Eric Russell on June 27, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    I have to agree with ADMIN, “People pok-er and black-jack and rou-lette and they lose money.”

    That about sums up the problem. There are various underlying emotions, issues and motivations in conjunction with gambling that can be bad. But I think the church counsel is largely in fear of and in response to the plain loss of money that many are needlessly enduring.

    Sticking your name in a promotional give-away contest is a good way to get something for nothing. As is inheritance. But I don’t know that these things are bad in themselves. Rejoicing in another’s defeat is not good, but not bad enough to ban sports. Taking high risks for the sake of the thrill is often unwise, particularly in rock climbing, but not always necessarily an evil in itself.

    The problem with the loss-of-money approach is that it seems to suggest that if you win, it’s not bad. But the problem remains that no matter how good you are the risk of great loss is still high. (See the first five minutes of Rounders.)

  17. Bryan on June 27, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    I’m bothered by the amount of attention this topic is getting these days. The people are looking to have it spelled out for them black and white what they can and can’t do, what constitutes gambling or not. I think that if you have to rationalize it, it’s probably not good. That’s the way alot of our counsel is in the church- why should this be any different.

  18. APJ on June 27, 2005 at 1:54 pm

    Gamb-ling can be very addictive, or a fun little activity…I think it depends on the person. And I think people can figure out for themselves which it is for them (addictive or a fun little activity). I think GBH’s advice is great (and wish I would have taken it myself), but I’d hate to think that people who really aren’t ‘problem’ gamb-lers are beating themselves up simply because they find it entertaining.

  19. Paul Mortensen on June 27, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    RT:

    Short-selling of stock is only a zero-sum game if you restrict the time horizon to the dates specified in the buyer-seller contract. If the buyer has a time-horizon past the fulfillment date then then it is not necessarily a zero-sum game. Another issue you’re completely ignoring is the fact that the SHORT AND LONG SELLING OF EQUITIES ARE RISK-REDUCING ACTIVITIES. If a person wants to “sell short” a particular equity what that person is doing is establishing today what price he/she will recieve three months from now for that equity. Conversely, the buyer is establishing a pre-set price which he/she is willing to purchase the same equity. What both parties have done is eliminate the risk that the amount that will be paid/recieved will be higer/lower than contracted and each party expects. Except for the ability of both parties to fullfil, l they have eliminated the volitility function from the transaction. The only risk each party then faces is financial (meaning opportunity gain/loss) which is omnipresent and generally calculated into the negotiated price.

  20. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    Frank,

    I agree that we haven’t been advised not to short stocks. In fact, that’s my point; we haven’t even been advised to avoid risky, short-term stock market transactions. Hence, whatever differentiates those transactions from the specific set of games we’ve been advised to avoid must be the crucial thing. As we’ve agreed, neither the inherent risk nor the zero-sum aspect of the forbidden games uniquely decides between these games and other behaviors–an approved stock market transaction can have either. Hence, the problematic aspect of gambling must be something else.

    My theory is that this can be resolved as follows: gambling is evil because it preys on the uninformed. As an imperfect generalization, those who don’t understand probability theory are the most likely to participate. It’s wrong to take advantage of other people’s ignorance, and it’s unwise to act on one’s own ignorance. Hence the vigorous warnings against participating on either side of gambling.

    Bryan, I’m not interested in rationalizing gambling. I think it’s, in effect, a regressive tax paid largely to wealthy corporations. I just think it’s worth trying to understand the details of why we’re being so emphatically warned against gambling–at least in part because the message has been so repetitive and heavy-handed.

    Finally, sorry about the redundant posts above–forbidden vocab and filtering made me think I hadn’t succeeded in posting…

  21. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    Paul,

    My point here is that even a short-sighted investor who shorts stocks as a pure zero-sum risk isn’t in any kind of clear violation of counsel. In other words, even the worst-case behavior isn’t discussed, so these dimensions of the behavior must not be relevant.

  22. Matt Evans on June 27, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    RT,

    I like your analysis, but at this point the church condemns gambling regardless of whether it preys on the uninformed, and it’s not necessary that gambling prey on the uninformed. Even if someone’s fully informed that they lose an average of 2% per roulette spin, they may still decide to play because they consider 2% to be a reasonable fee to pay the house for providing the venue and hiring the staff, just as they consider reasonable fees for other entertainment operators, like theaters or golf courses.

    Similarly, the potential profit from many forms of stock and futures trading depends on consistently beating the average market information — in other words, preying on the uninformed.

  23. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    “My point here is that even a short-sighted investor who shorts stocks as a pure zero-sum risk isn’t in any kind of clear violation of counsel. In other words, even the worst-case behavior isn’t discussed, so these dimensions of the behavior must not be relevant.”

    I doubt this. I am guessing that it wouldbe ratehr difficult to carefully delineate when stock market behavior is over the line. GBH instead talked about principles that make gambling behavior problematic and encouraged people to form decisions based on it.

    We agree that day trading (for example) is essentially the same as gambling in the aspects we are discussing.

    You seem to feel that this means that these aspects are not the key to why gambling is bad.

    I think it means that one should not engage in day trading.

  24. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    Frank,

    Fair enough. I’d only note that I’m not aware of very much discussion of the evils of day trading, currency market speculation, and so forth.

  25. lyle stamps on June 27, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    perhaps because the average member is more likely to gamble than day trade? or because poker is becoming more and more popular of late, and the Prophet is trying to head it off at the pass?

    Alternatively, maybe folks reject Frank’s conclusion because “everyone” else is doing it; and because it is “business,” it gets more respect and less derision?

  26. lyle stamps on June 27, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    rt: maybe because G* is currently popular, and maybe gaining currency among church members?

    alternatively, Frank’s conclusion might get rejected because “business” is seen as respectable; and thus the G*-day trading analogy is rejected because so many successful business types are doing it?

    [p.s. i had admin editors that erase your comment. maybe one that still displayed what you had typed with a warning as to why it wouldn't be posted so you could correct it!]

  27. John Mansfield on June 27, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Gambling is evil because it preys on the uninformed. — Roasted Tomatoes

    Here is an illustration of that. For a couple of decades, the Comdex computer technology show was the biggest convention in Las Vegas, bringing in at its 1998 peak 220,000 people and $341 million in non-gambling revenue. With the technology stock bust and other obstacles the show dwindled during this decade and wasn’t held in 2004. The casinos weren’t sad to see it go, though, because their hotels and restaurants were being filled with people who understood probability and gambled much less than typical convention delegates.

  28. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    This is the first hit from a Church Library search on speculation:

    Elder Faust, also quoting Brigham Young and President Tanner:

    It is difficult to be just with oneself and others unless we recognize the law of the harvest. We reap that which we sow. Latter-day Saints have long been taught to live by the virtues of independence, industry, thrift, and self-reliance. Working for what we receive is a cardinal, timeless principle of self-respect. The whole world admires success. But how each of us defines success and how we seek it is crucial to our happiness.

    The fruits of industry and thrift may appropriately be put into sound investments. A good solid investment can equal years of toil, and there is some risk in all we do. But investments that are highly speculative and promoted with unsound, vague promises of inordinate return should be viewed very carefully. The leaders of the Church have long warned against speculation.

    Brigham Young said, ‘If the Lord ever revealed anything to me, he has shown me that the Elders of Israel must let speculation alone and attend to the duties of their calling.’ (Journal of Discourses, 8:179.)

    In our time President Nathan Eldon Tanner has said:

    ‘Investment debt should be fully secured so as not to encumber a family’s security. Don’t invest in speculative ventures. The spirit of speculation can become intoxicating. Many fortunes have been wiped out by the uncontrolled appetite to accumulate more and more. Let us learn from the sorrows of the past and avoid enslaving our time, energy, and general health to a gluttonous appetite to acquire increased material goods.’ (In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, p. 120; also in Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 82.)

  29. Frank McIntyre on June 27, 2005 at 3:38 pm

    cje,

    We only allow perfect people on this blog. Please turn in your badge at the door. Thanks for playing. Good luck next time.

  30. lyle stamps on June 27, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    Frank: Nice quotes. Thanks.
    John: Was it folks that know probability? or just folks with more profitable ventures to invest in?

  31. h c on June 27, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    Here are my two cents – though I post them with the general admission that I have failings in applying them to my own difficult issues…

    When considering the whys and why nots of gambling, Jesus Christ’s explanation about the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:3) provides some insight. Jesus describes this revelation as a principle “adapted… to the weakest of all saints.” Paul reflects this same principle in his epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians, and it may account for at least part of the modern prophetic instruction about gambling. Showing us the charitable (in the divinest sense of the word) perspective of obedience Paul decries doing anything “whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak (Romans 14:21).” In 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 he illustrates with a specific example:

    9 “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

    10 “For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat
    those things which are offered to idols;

    11 “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

    12 “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

    13 “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

    From this perspective, regardless of personal ability to gamble “appropriately,* ” Christ-like love would teach us to abstain so as not to put a brother or sister at risk. Whether that “sibling” is a sibling in Christ (a member) or simply by virtue of his or her humanity (a non-member) the principle and the love motivating it remain unchanged. Indeed, they most likely form some of the key “small things” through which the Lord brings great things to pass. With our human short-sightedness, we cannot possibly grasp the neverending ripple-effects of even our smallest actions. Without such comprehension, unless we combine our reasoning with spiritual seeking we will consistently lack the elements crucial to successfully decifering and understanding the Lord’s ways.

    With regard to short stocks, etc., a few other scriptures come to mind. When the Lord has given a principle, He tends then to expect individuals to “govern themselves.” As he teaches, “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant… (D&C 58:26)” Concluding his speech in a similar vein, King Benjamin may also speak for our current brethren. He teaches, “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them” (Mosiah 4:29). (Incidentally, preceding this verse is another tiny sermon on living with integrity to help our neighbor avoid sin.) Without passing personal judgment on the merits or evils of dealing in short-stocks or other gambling-like activities, I submit that the purpose of the Brethren is not to supply us with an exhaustive list of sinful activities. Rather, they testify of Christ and of righteousness, they provide examples, they give counsel for the times, and they address issues (pornography, gambling, abuse) which have become major pitfalls for the saints.

    * I don’t know that any circumstance when we consider ourselves above obedience can be considered appropriate.

  32. Bryan on June 27, 2005 at 5:28 pm

    HC-
    That was nicely put, and I agree whole heartedly. I just don’t have that same kind of ability to express myself.

  33. Paul Mortensen on June 27, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    I think the Church’s prohibition against gambling is a slippery slope prohibition– much like the prohibition against consuming alcohol. Because gaming (to use the industry euphemism for the real term) has an addictive component for a certain segment of the population then it’s better for everyone to avoid the vice entirely rather than attempt to make a rule that says it (gaming) should only be avoided by those predisposed to becoming addictive. It’s especially true given that gaming is part of an industry intent on developing games that are more and more addictive/attractive.

  34. RoastedTomatoes on June 27, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Paul’s rationale for the gambling prohibition seems sensible and wise to me.

    Note, however, the shift from the three evils mentioned in the original post to the evil of addiction. If addiction risk is the basis for the gambling prohibition, then shorting stock is almost certainly fine…

  35. Jeremiah J. on June 27, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Adam, adding to your musings:
    From the start let me agree that I also don’t like gambling (though government and big-business gambling annoys me much more than office pools for the NCAA tournament).

    The “getting something for nothing” evil is tricky, I think, first of all because getting something for nothing is a standard part of life (aside from the ‘rewards’ of discipleship, which you rightly point out). Everyone gets a lot more than they give; farmers understand this better than the rest of us, I think. Granted, it is one of the great moral truths of adulthood that making your way in the world requires some effort on your part, but very often legitimate work involves the kind of effort which looks to keep its effort to a minimum (e.g. do entrepreneurs have a moral duty to limit their Return On Investment? If your 401K makes 40% this year are you getting “something for nothing”?–some people would say yes but I don’t think that the intent of our gambling argument is to take us there.) What counts as something and what counts as nothing?

    Another problem, which President Hinckley mentioned in his latest talk on the subject, is that getting something for nothing rarely happens in gambling (and when it does, it’s so improbable that it’s kind of like stumbling upon buried treasure, which few people look down upon). Usually it’s the other way ’round: getting nothing for something. Of course many people who gamble claim that they do indeed get something (the thrill of having one’s pocket picked, I guess, which I’ve never quite understood). So this leads us to a distinction between true goods and things which people merely suppose to be good.

    I think you can see with Elder Oaks’ talk several years ago and Pres. Hinckley’s now a gradual maturing of the teaching about gambling (the basic recommendation has not changed, but the doctrinal support for it has indeed been developed). It’s actually kind of exciting since it seems to raise a number of central questions in political theology.

  36. Mike W. on June 28, 2005 at 9:44 am

    How do multi-level marketing ventures fall into this problem? Many people within the church find this an attractive path for getting “something for (next to) nothing.” It seems a legalized way for a few to take advantage of many with promises that are blatantly deceitful. Additionally, many are encouraged to take advantage of these “business opportunities” by methods that, unlike gam*, make some attempt at righteousness. It just seems to me as a version of LDS lottery, given the number of MLM companies in Utah.

  37. Seth Rogers on June 28, 2005 at 10:06 am

    I wish you all could have sat in on the combined Relief Society-Priesthood meeting we had about a month back.

    The lesson was given by our former 2nd counselor in the bishopric. He grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey right when c-asinos really started taking off there. He also worked in those establishments for several years.

    There really wasn’t a lot of preaching or moralizing. Just the hard ugly reality surrounding those establishments. He told us about the different types of people who frequent the slots. Talked about house-odds and how the entire environment is rigged against those who get lured in.

    He related how his mother racked up so much debt on the slot machines that they had to sell off their property to pay off the $60,000 debt she’d acquired in about two years (dad said that if she ever set foot inside a casino again, he’d get an attorney).

    He talked about how all the local business owners were so gung-ho to get these establishments in Atlantic City because of all the supposed new business it would generate. The g-ambling was allowed in. Within 5 years, every last one of those local businesses was out of business. They didn’t anticipate that cas-inos don’t want you to ever see the light of day once they get you inside their doors. So all the restaraunts, stores, ATMs, etc. are inside the hotel (which out-competed all the local businesses).

    The analogy of games of chance as entertainment (like a movie) was brought up. I went away with a couple conclusions:

    1. The prophet said so, and that’s a good enough reason to quit on its own.

    2. Gam-bling is extremely addictive for some people and its hard to know if you’ve got the kind of personality that is vulnerable to addictive behavior. So why take chances?
    The internet is, by its very nature, addictive (as anyone who blogs out to know). So I would wager that internet versions of this activity are obscenely addictive. Pres. Hinckley’s annectdote about the teenage boy who spends all day online wagering probably wasn’t as uncommon as we’d like to believe.

    I predict that the great challenge of my generation (I’m currently 30) and those after will be addictive media. Computer games, internet use, and wired gadgets are being added to the mix of the traditional addictions of sports and the current topic of this thread. This is something that really hasn’t registered on the radar screens of General Authorities and the “baby-boomer” generation. But it is rapidly turning into an epic problem in guys my age and younger (the girls are even picking up on it).

    It’s a criminal waste of societal talent and resources.

    3. The whole industry itself is corrupt and morally bankrupt. They’re even more dangerous now that they’ve cleaned up their image and distanced from the Mafia, etc. When the devil appears to you, he won’t have horns and a tail. He’ll have a nice suit, a charming smile, a couple academic degrees and he’ll play a mean game of tennis. Type of guy you’d like to go golfing with.

    Mormons have no business lending any sort of financial support to this industry, no matter how restrained our own behavior is.

    4. Just a random comment at the end here:

    State sponsored gambling is essentially a tax on being stupid, poor, and ignorant.

    The restrained rich people profit from the ignorance of the masses (who are guilible enough to believe in the promise of a lottery ticket). This is Pharasiacal behavior at its worst.

  38. Keanu Reaves on June 28, 2005 at 11:52 am

    “When the devil appears to you, he won’t have horns and a tail. He’ll have a nice suit, a charming smile, a couple academic degrees and he’ll play a mean game of tennis. Type of guy you’d like to go golfing with.”

    In other words, he’ll look just like Al Pacino.

  39. Rusty on June 28, 2005 at 12:20 pm

    This is pretty well-worn territory. One question that was brought up over there and has been alluded to here (and still hasn’t been answered) is: is there something inherently wrong with gambling? I mean, is gambling wrong because of the attendant social phenomena (addiction, corruption, etc.) or is it wrong without those things? Because if it’s inherently wrong, it would be just as wrong to play poker with candy or points as it would be with money. And it seems pretty clear that any one of Adam’s three points can also be applied to accepted forms of entertainment/investment.

  40. Mark N. on June 28, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    It seems that verse 4 of section 89 of the D&C matters here about as much as anything: “Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—”

    Casinos are designed to do one thing, and it does that one thing extremely well: to take the funds of the gambler and to line the pockets of the casino owner. The longer one plays, the more money will be transferred from the gambler to the owner. Sure, it’s a tug of war, where the individual gambler occasionally seems to prevail and drags the casino owner a little closer to the mud pit that separates them. But that matters not to the casino owner, because he knows that for every one gambler that goes home a winner (for that day only), one hundred others go home having been separated from their funds to a smaller or greater amount.

    When you play, you become the prey. In the long run, the prey always loses. The prohibition against gambling may simply be a policy of denying the casino owner the money, because we don’t know what he’s going to do with those funds. He’s already demonstrated his willingness to pit himself against gamblers in a game that is dishonestly and mathematically rigged to insure that he wins in the long run (provided he can insure that the skills of the gambler can be negated in one way or another), so why should we trust him to use those funds to benefit the community at large once he has them? We are taught that the only valid reason for seeking wealth is so that Zion may be benefitted, and not that we, ourselves, might be aggrandized. In that light, I guess we’re not supposed to be seeking the aggrandizement of those that we know do not have the welfare of Zion as one of their overriding concerns.

  41. Mike on June 28, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    I have mixed feelings about gambling.

    On the one hand I know that GBH has made it abundantly clear that gambling is not a good thing and I agree with almost all of the points raised against gambling above. I have read articles describing the extremely negative impact Atlantic City had on the surrounding communities on the east coast and the problems with organized crime. Las Vegas seems to be prospering for the time being, but I expect that eventually they will live to regret building all those enormous casinos, etc.

    On the other hand, Georgia the state I live in has reached a sort of compromise. The Baptists and other fundamentalists who control the politics are strongly against gambling and would never have allowed it. But they were persuaded to lower their opposition to gambling by the suggestion that all of the profits from a state lottery go to college scholarships. This is called the HOPE scholarship fund. Today in Georgia any high school graduate who has a B average or better goes to state schools for free, as long as they can get into the school. This includes Georgia Tech, one of the nation’s top technical colleges on par with Cal Tech or MIT, for free! It includes the University of Georgia which is a better than average state school and a dozen other excellent universities which do not have very high entrance qualifications at all.

    You have to actively reject going to college here, it is never a matter of not being able to afford it; it is free and available due to gambling. And it is not very hard to get B grades in Georgia public schools which are among the worst in the nation.You have to be on drugs or just not show up to do that badly.

    Some controversy surrounds the fund such as a possible change to evaluating SAT scores instead of grades. Some poor schools practice extreme grade inflation and give all the students B’s or better. As college costs go up faster than the desire to gamble, the fund will cover fewer students so they might have to raise the bar up to a B+ level or else give the students only 80% of their tuition, or else factor into consideration their parents income, etc. Adjustments are hotly debated and will have to be made. But the positive results are obvious and enormous.

    This alters the philosophical analysis of gambling sgnificantly. Almost any student on the lower end of the economic scale can attend college who would not otherwise have gone because of gambling. They get something they could never earn themselves for nothing (except a token effort in high school), a college education. It gives the youth of the underclass incentive to stay in school and off the violent street. It also lessens the guilt of those who buy lottery tickets who know that gambling is wrong. It does not change the behavior of the compulsive gambler who destroys their life and that of their family.

    I also think of it as sort of a tax on stupidity, designed to elevate the collective intelligence of the community. Gambling is a regressive tax that tends to tax the poor more than the rich, which is the reverse of the usual situation where the rich pay a higher portion of the tax. I do not pay this tax, incidentally.

    If my children qualify for the HOPE scholarship, will we be hypocritical in not accepting it? Some of my local church leaders have children in college on the HOPE scholarship and they could easily afford the tuition. Are they being hypocritical?

  42. Paul Mortensen on June 28, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    MIke:

    Georgia will soon have a real problem funding those HOPE scholarships exclusively through lottery revenue. About six months back the WSJ published an article reporting that lottery sales and revenue nation-wide are declining. In the article they specifically noted the situation of Georgia where even in the best years the population of people under the age of 21 was growing faster than lottery revenue. When Georgia started its state lottery the only surrounding state with which it had to compete for customers was Florida. In the beginning Georgia sold almost 15% of its tickets to out-of-state customers from Alabama (where I lived for a spell), South and North Carolina, and Tennessee. Now, both Carolinas and Tennessee have their own lotteries and those sales have dried up. Alabamians who want to g-amble can choose among those states and Florida to buy lottery tickets and Mississippi with its huge gaming establishments in Biloxi and Tunica. That HOPE scholarship your children might be betting on (pun intended) may or may not be there in the future.

    On top of the potential house of cards Georgia may have built there’s a quite pernicious nature about funding college scholarships through lottery receipts given the profile of the average lottery player. About 40% of lottery sales are made to households in the bottom 20% of incomes. Care to venture a guess as to what percentage of children from those households go on to college? 11% Now, the top 20% of households contribute a paltry 4% of lottery sales while 68% of children from those households matriculate to college after high school. In essence you have the well-to-do educating their children on the backs of the less fortunate. Explain to me the justice in such a government policy. Church members who accept such scholarships for their children are not only hypocrites for accepting the proceeds of such an amoral practice but they are utterly devoid of a sense of charity and justice. People like to console themselves by saying that a lottery is merely a tax on the stupid but I find such justifications vaccuous and self-serving by allowing individuals to not only assume a sense of moral superiority but a sense of intellectual superiority as well.

  43. Argumentus Absurdus on June 28, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    If we legalized pot and had a marijuana tax that went to a scholarship fund or we legalized prostitution and used the money to feed the poor and build shelters for the homeless, would we then support houses of ill repute and purveyors of drugs because doing so would ameliorate some social ill?

  44. Frank McIntyre on June 28, 2005 at 2:28 pm

    Take the scholarship, then donate the college money you save to the cause of your choice.

  45. Kingsley on June 28, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    All of the hookers and potheads I know are on scholarship already.

  46. cje on June 28, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Paul

    “Church members who accept such scholarships for their children are not only hypocrites for accepting the proceeds of such an amoral practice but they are utterly devoid of a sense of charity and justice.”

    Looks like us Georgians will still get to be hypocrites.

    http://www.ajc.com/hp/content/auto/epaper/editions/yesterday/news_247baafcc02a120000bf.html

    Lottery posts a winner
    Sales up $400 million more than projected

    yeeha!

    I figure that the hope scholarship will help make up the 10% I give to the church–to fund extravagant conference centers ; )

    (Hello Pandora)

    cje

  47. hank fielding on June 29, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Paul:

    If only things were really so black-and-white.

    The poster seems to imply that outlawing gambling and other such immoral things would result in the elimination of a lot of social ills. I don’t think the evidence supports this claim. The phrase “you can’t legislate morality” is overused and trite, but holds. If demanded by the populace, simply making g-ambling illegal will not solve any problem and will in all likelihood only increase problems.

    On a national scale, consider prohibition, an attempt to legislate the
    use of alcohol. On a statewide scale, read the deseret news 5-part series on Gambling in Utah: Utahns spend $60 million a year gambling out of state, of which Nevada gets a large chunk. There’s a particularly interesting case study about Wendover. The Nevada side has great schools, the Utah side, on which no gambling occurs is in a rather depressed state of affairs. In summary, g-ambling is illegal in Utah; Utahns g-amble anyway;
    Utah is effectively subsidizing Nevada’s state tax rather than its own.

    I agree with Pres Hinckley and with you that g-ambling results in all
    kinds of problems. However, legislating morality will never work. If people lose interest and the lottery dries up, great! At least one
    social problem solved. But if people want to g-amble they will find a way to do it. In this environment, I suggest that the Georgia legislators came up with a reasonable solution–one aimed at “making the most of a bad situation”.

    The best way to solve the problems associated with g-ambling is to root the desire out of people’s hearts, which I understand to be exactly what Pres. Hinckley is trying to accomplish.

    “Church members who accept such scholarships for their children are not only hypocrites for accepting the proceeds of such an amoral practice but they are utterly devoid of a sense of charity and justice.”

    Hmmm. Have you ever shopped at a grocery store or any other store that is also open on Sundays? I don’t mean “do you shop on Sundays?”, I mean do you patronize any establishment that chooses the practice of being open on Sunday?

    Really, we live in a very imperfect and flawed society. Many things we do can be construed as causing harm to some segment of civilization, yet we don’t get up in arms about it. The computer I’m typing this on was probably manufactured in part by an under-paid worker whose employer keeps a disproprortionate share of earnings. Should we ban the use of computers until that social ill is rectified?

  48. A. Greenwood on June 29, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    “However, legislating morality will never work.”

    Absurd. You’re claiming that people never respond to incentives? That the amount of gambling that occurs will be the same as just as destructive whether or not its legal? Legislating morality is tricky business. People’s desire for vice is strong and extremely difficult to eradicate. And illegalizing the vice can have bad side effects. But that legislation based on moral practices can never had good effects is absurd.

    In New Mexico, where there are now numerous tribal casinos and a state run lottery, there is MUCH more gambling than there was before. If we legalized brothels and started setting them up around the state, there’d be a lot more prostitution. Come on.

  49. Jeremy Gayed on June 29, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    BRotL (Bantam Rooster of the Law a/k/a Adam Greenwood):

    On what grounds (other than purely arbitrary designation) can you possibly claim that seeking windfall, zero-sum games, and unecessary risk-taking are objectively evil?

    I’ll wager that for every Biblical passage you can find implicitly condeming those principles, I can find one that implicitly approves of them.

    (Consider also that as an American lawyer, those three principles conspire to insure the continuing demand for your services. This isn’t really relevant to my point, but I couldn’t help but to point it out).

  50. Mike on June 29, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    Paul:

    “That HOPE scholarship your children might be betting on (pun intended) may or may not be there in the future.”

    Actually I was hoping they would go to BYU. But that increasingly seems like a bigger risk, if a less ethically slippery one.

    Seriously, several youth who grew up in our ward and stake are taking advantage of the HOPE scholarship. (With some exceptions, the ones who attend early morning seminary sleep through their other classes and flunk their tests and can’t get into BYU. The ones who sluff seminary don’t want to go to BYU). Some are from poor families who would have a difficult time scrapping the money together. Others are from wealthy families who spent thousands each year for private education through high school and could easily afford to pay for almost any private or public university. They include the children of Bishops and Stake Presidents. I realize this is no excuse, as J. Golden Kimball remarked, “if you follow your church leaders to hell, you will go to hell.”

    Would you advise me to call all the parents of students on HOPE scholarship in the ward up on the phone and have a chat with them and try to persuade them (gently and meekly with love unfeigned) to repent of their hypocritical ways? I could start with my Bishop since his kids were on the HOPE scholarship a few years ago.

    I completely agree that the lottery is highly regressive; taking way more money from the poor than the rich, which is not right. I really do have mixed feelings about it.

    As far as Argumentus Absurbus says about legailzing other forms of wickedness and making money off of it… In the case of the lottery, it seems like a rather small evil and a lot of good coming from it. But it says in the DC something about “I the Lord can not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”

    I really do have mixed feelings about it.

  51. Frank McIntyre on June 29, 2005 at 5:11 pm

    Jeremy, Adam did not pull these out of a hat. They are themes in President Hinckley’s talk as well as in other GA discussions of similar topics.

    But as Adam points out, the evils must be carefully defined, as they lie close to things that are good.

  52. A. Greenwood on June 29, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Mr. Gayed,

    Something-for-nothing has the potential for evil in the here-and-now because work and striving have good effects on human character.

    Zero sum games promote un-charity. They push one into hoping for and trying for another’s loss.

    Unnecessary risk-taking for the sake of the thrills is bad stewardship.

    If you believed that gambling was wrong (as we Mormons surely do. The prophet has spoken.), on what grounds would you think it wrong?

  53. Jeremy Gayed on June 29, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Adam,

    (Personal sidenote: For some reason, I feel like we should be having this discussion sitting in a basement office somewhere in the middle of northern Indiana).

    Your answer identifies 1 evil (bad stewardship), 1 potential evil (uncharitableness), and 1 opportunity cost (time that could have been spent at character-building work).

    The evil of bad stewardship can be addressed (as mentioned above) through budgeting. If a responsible steward can spend X on entertainment, what matters it if he spends it at a restaurant, a theater, or on a turn of the cards?

    The potential evil of uncharitableness raises the more interesting question of how far we are responsible to insulate ourselves from temptation. I have seen enough utterly friendly and actually charitable games of poker to say with confidence that, in many situations, this potential evil is far more remote that you might in theory think.

    The opportunity cost of time that could have been spent at character-building work seems to prove to much. If gamblers stand convicted on that count, then so do most movie fans, sports fans, bloggers, and fiction readers.

    I’ve asked myself the question that you posed to me (in an impressive and Christlike display of tactical debate) on several occassions. Whenever I think I’m finding a justification for the wrongness of gambling, I run into the Bible’s Aristotelian stand on alchohol: moderation, okay; excess, bad. I can see no meaningful distinction between the two practices. Perhaps you can assist me.

  54. A. Greenwood on June 29, 2005 at 6:40 pm

    Uh, we’re teetotalers, Jeremy. [Note to onlookers: Jeremy Gayed is a friend from Notre Dame. He is not LDS.] I personally see it as one of the major accomplishments of our faith.

    Second, you’re wrong to characterize the something-for-nothing objection as a time wasting/ opportunity cost argument. It’s not. It’s an argument from the redemptive value of having to work and provide value in order to have to satisfy one’s wants and needs.

    Third, as to stewardship. I reject the notion that all forms of entertainment are equal (in other words, that the only value of entertainment is to have ‘fun.’). Entertainment can serve multiple purposes and serve multiple goods. Some forms of entertainment are worth more than others. And some forms of entertainment are empirically more dangerous than others.

  55. Ivan Wolfe on June 30, 2005 at 9:18 am

    MIke –
    the ones who attend early morning seminary sleep through their other classes and flunk their tests and can’t get into BYU

    That’s a very, very odd claim since I know hundreds of people who attended early morning seminary and got good grades and attended BYU.

  56. A. Greenwood on June 30, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    Uh, yes. In fact, nearly everybody from outside Utah I knew at BYU had attended early morning seminary. It was sort of a requirement for admission. But Mike is just talking about some local quirk.

  57. Paul Mortensen on June 30, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    Adam:

    You wrote in your initial post, “We don’t believe in getting rich quick but we do believe that God intends to reward us far beyond our worth.” I disagree with how you frame this issue. I think that God has no intention of “rewarding” us but rather at a certain point in time he makes a judgement as to our future potential and then makes an investment in our future. Reward, at least to me, implies that we have completed some task and have been compensated for a job well-done. But Mormon theology teaches that judgement is merely a waypoint along the road to eternal progression. Christ performed all his work and gave the glory to the Father and I think in our Eternal Work we will as well. In that sense, we’re not getting something for nothing from an eternal perspective. Therefore, your concern that the idea of getting “something-for-nothing” does not even approach that characteristic of gambling.

  58. Mike on June 30, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Ivan Wolfe:

    How many of them early mornin’ seminary students do you know from Georgia’s fine public schools? We have like 20 stakes in the state. I did say with some exceptions, there are a few who sleep through seminary… But I got this crack straight from Sacrament meeting when our graduating seminary students were asked to speak at the end of the year. Several of them said this exact thing. They got up real earily for seminary, couldn’t stay awake in other classes, did poorly on SAT type of tests and couldn’t get into BYU or other top schools. But it was worth it they said. A sacrifice to build testimony.

  59. Jim F. on June 30, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    There are enough very good students at BYU who also stayed awake in early morning seminary that I’m skeptical about what students have said to Mike, namely that early morning seminary made it difficult for them to do well enough in school to get into BYU. Either students in Georgia are an exception or that isn’t true (which isn’t to say that they don’t believe it to be true–I’m not accusing them of dishonesty, just of probably being wrong).

  60. Jack on June 30, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Mike,

    If the issue is sacrifice, then they could have done the same in preparation for college by getting to bed earlier.

  61. Mike Christopherson on June 30, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    Even though this thread appears nearly exhausted (I have nothing to add re: college scholarships), I wanted to chime in since I also covered this topic in my EQ on Sunday. The difference was that, in my stake, we were asked to discuss both Pres. Hinckley’s remarks and Elder Oaks’s talk on pornography in the same lesson. I found it interesting to read both talks together, and our discussion focused on the following common evils associated with both activities/industries and generally addressed by the authors of the talks:

    1. Addiction
    2. Something for nothing (obvious in gambling, but the parallel we drew in pornography was the user’s seeking sexual gratification without the hard work and fidelity necessary in a celestial marriage)
    3. Waste of time and talents (Pres. Hinckley said: “Please, please do not fritter away your time or your talents in an aimless pursuit. If you do so, it will lessen your capacity to do worthwhile things. I believe it will dull your sensitivity to your studies in school. It will disappoint your parents, and as the years pass and you look back, you will be disappointed with yourselves.”)
    4. Secondary effects/By their fruits ye shall know them (this category included the destruction of relationships discussed by Elder Oaks but certainly applicable to many gamblers I have known, as well as all of the other industries, activities and practices that inevitably arise where either gambling or pornography (and usually both) are present)

    I understand why many of the intellectual giants (and I mean that sincerely — my first exposure to many of these writers was through the LDS Law email list a few years back at the invitation of my friend, Matt Evans, and I was then and am now in awe at how prolific this group is) who contribute to this blog would focus more on the philosophical issues involved in defining evil, but the more practical category #3 is the one that really resonated with me. I have never really felt tempted by the something-for-nothing-ness of gambling (I am way too risk averse, as are many other lawyers I know) and, thankfully, I have been able to steer clear of pornography, but I am constantly tempted to waste my time and talents. And when I am honest with myself, I have to admit that any activity that wastes my time and talents is an “evil.”

    I am curious to hear others’ thoughts on this standard for defining “evil.”

  62. hank fielding on June 30, 2005 at 7:45 pm

    Adam, in response to post 48:

    Of course people respond to incentives.

    Your comment–
    “People’s desire for vice is strong and extremely difficult to eradicate. And illegalizing the vice can have bad side effects”

    is exactly my point. You can’t fully legislate away these problems. If the desire is strong enough, people will find a way to do it, legally or otherwise. Admittedly it will be reduced if illegal. But, if it is something that *enough* people want, legislators will eventually spring up who will work to legalize it.

    “But that legislation based on moral practices can never had good effects is absurd.”

    Yes, I agree with you. Of course it is absurd. My point was that if the clamor and demand for something (such as gambling) is large enough that it appears inevitable that is will become llegal, you have only a few options:

    –either fight a losing battle, possibly ending up with nothing good.
    –Or, work out a compromise that provides some previously unrealized benefit.

    It appears the Georgia legislators took the second option. I personally don’t see many other choices.

    The point isn’t “let’s legalize gambling because of the good it does”. Rather, it’s “if gambling is coming anyway, what good can we make out of it?”.

    I think we are mostly in agreement.

    But this raises what I think is an interesting point–what happens if/when it becomes inevitable that, for example, SSM heads towards legalization in the US? For those opposed to it, do you fight it to the end, or at some point is it in the best interest to work out some compromise? How do you know when the transition point occurs?

    (Admittedly, SSM is not the right analogy, I chose it because of its divisive issue with lots of people on both sides. Maybe legalizing marijuana or something like that would be better).

  63. A. Greenwood on June 30, 2005 at 8:13 pm

    Gambling was not inevitable, especially in the South. Gambling legalization laws have been universally tied to education funding because proponents weren’t sure they could pass them otherwise.

    And by tieing gambling to education, you (1) increase the chances that legalization is taken as a societal sign of approval and normalization and (2) make it that much more difficult to roll back the gambling interests once the adverse effects of the program become apparent.

  64. Matt Evans on July 1, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Hi Mike, it’s good to see you at Times & Seasons. You wrote, “when I am honest with myself, I have to admit that any activity that wastes my time and talents is an ‘evil.’”

    A similar thought crossed my mind when I read Hinckley’s warning about ‘frittering’ away our time, but rather than assume everything that fritters time is evil, I wondered why, if frittering is so dangerous, we don’t hear more conference talks against the evils of frittering time on video games, watching and reading about BYU sports, organizing baseball cards, assembling miniature train sets, ironing bed sheets, or spending nine years of your life learning how to conduct a marching band? To put it simply, if the evil of gambling is “time fritter,” then gambling’s evil corresponds to the time spent playing, and two hours of weekly poker would be a moral improvement over three hours of Yahtzee. (No doubt the time Mormons fritter gambling is negligible to the time they fritter on video games and TV.)

    Or here’s one that my family has talked about: in high school my sister spent four hours each day swimming from one end of a pool to the other. Exercise is good, but because she could have been in fabulous shape swimming vigorously for four hours per week, were the other hours ‘frittered’ away in pursuit of besting her rivals? Is there anything of good report in being the district swimming champion, when to some degree that designation means that they sacrificed more of their life (frittered more of their time), swimming back and forth alone in a silent pool, than any other high schooler?

    The normal response is that some activities cultivate a talent, and others don’t. But I don’t know that the “talents” of building painstakingly accurate miniature train replicas, or memorizing the career stats for Steve Young and Ty Detmer, are any better than learning to calculate in your head the odds of competing poker hands.

    It could be that all of these temporal pursuits are evil. I sometimes wonder why the gospel worldview doesn’t lead us to spend all of our time directly involved in the gospel. With so many soul’s in need of loving repair, why do we tolerate someone’s spending time to refinish a wood dining chair?

  65. Mike on July 1, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    Response to Jack #60:

    Teenagers getting to bed earily… Now that would be a real sacrifice.

    Lets do the math. Kids need 8 hrs or more of sleep. If we have, say, 20 seminary students in the ward, they will probably attend 6 or 8 different high schools and one or more of the private schools will start as earily as about 7:30 am. Seminary will have to start earily enough to accomodate the first school start time. Don’t forget to factor in the half hour ride to and from the church. The further the school is from the church the eariler it starts, or so it seems. Seminary is supposed to be 1 hour. This explains why seminary starts at 6:00 am and sometimes sooner.

    Teenage girls usually spend more than half an hour in the bathroom in the morning. Don’t ask me what they do but it is a fact. When you don’t let them use the church bathroom during seminary, don’t forget the half hour ride to church, that gets them up at about 5:00 am. Did we mention breakfast? Usually pop tarts in the car. That should put them to bed by 8:30 or 9:00 pm the night before.

    Right.

    What I see happening is that seminary students go to bed somewhere around 11:00 pm, somewhat sooner than their peers, get up arond 5:00 am, and accumulate about 2 hours of sleep debt each day. They pay it off by sleeping in regular classes and/or on weekends. It is an unwritten commandment in our ward that you never ever call a seminary student on the phone before about 3:00 pm on Saturday because that is about when they get up. They also tend to drag into church on Sunday morning late or looking like they have been “rode hard and hung up wet.” (Perhaps for a variety of reasons). It is no wonder that those who attend schools that start as late as 9:00 am come to seminary in their pajamas and no wonder that they demand donuts or muffins from their teachers.

    This year one of the more responsible girls in the ward flipped her car over while driving from seminary to school and almost departed to the spirit world. She said she fell asleep at the wheel. After that more parents drive their kids to seminary and they usually just sleep in the car in the parking lot, sometime in their pajamas. Puts a new twist to sleeping with a fellow ward member’s wife, in separate cars of course.

    You know sometimes I wonder if the most powerful influence of earily morning seminary is that Mormon kids who go are so dang tired by 10:00 pm Friday and Saturday night that they fall asleep before they can get into any “trouble” and those are the most likely times for “trouble” to start. (Trouble= sex, drugs, shootings, whatever).

    Response to Jim #59:

    I am not talking about all those good folks out at BYU who made it. I just want to point out that some, quite a few in fact, didn’t. These sacrifices are more than I ever imagined growing up in Utah. We are looking at two different portions of these people. I am glad that some got there as you report, in spite of everything. But I am concerned about those who didn’t, and why.

    Gambling seems to be helping those who didn’t make it. I think that if there is anyone in my ward so zealous that they would turn down the HOPE scholarship money, they probably will go to BYU anyway. Even if they have to mortguage their house a third time.

  66. hank fielding on July 1, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    Being a survivor of Early Morning Seminary myself–

    Its been 16 years since I finished HS (and therefore EMS). I still have vivid, almost tangible memories of feeling so tired that every ligament, tendon, joint, and muscle in my body just *ached*. Despite all the college and grad school all nighters I’ve pulled and work deadlines I’ve faced, nothing has compared to the fatigue I felt due to sleep loss from EMS.

    To be clear, though, it was a great experience and I would do it again.

    I wonder if the problem discussed in the previous post are due to non-scalability/non-applicability of the “Utah model”. By this I mean that as the church grows, what works well in a predominantly LDS society with a temperate climate and moderately high standard of living etc etc may not be the right solution everywhere.

    For example, in most Utah schools, release time is scheduled to accomodate seminary students during the day; ESM is way to extend seminary to students in non-release-time
    school districts, but it imposes an extra commitment (to the tune of an hour a day) on such students. Simply from a can-I-get-into-BYU perspective, students from, say Georgia, must accept this extra commitment if they want to even be considered, which hour-for-hour puts them at a disadvantage to Utah students headed to BYU.

    Additionally, regarding the “Utah Model” I read recently that the church has realized that air conditioning systems in meeting houses in the Phillipines was a mistake–the members were used to the heat and too cold in the chapels.

    On this note, a year and half ago or so there was a leadership traning meeting in which Elder Oaks spoke via satellite from the Phillipines wearing a short-sleeve white shirt and a tie. It was the first time I think I have ever seen a GA not in a suit, and wondered if he was sending a non-verbal message about changing customs as appropriate to fit the culture, environment, etc.

    Finally, BYU has been facing the non-scalability issue for years; it has been forced to become more and more selective as church membership has grown. I’m a BYU grad and would love it for my kids to go there, but odds are that when that time comes it may be difficult for them to get in.

  67. b bell on July 1, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    I know of three serious accidents involving seminary students driving to and from early morning seminary due to falling asleep at the wheel. One was fatal. Not the LDS kid. As a former seminary teacher I can tell you that the blessings of attendence for the kids are really quite large. I have always been concerned about the impact on the kids lives. Some are to tired to compete in sports or other activities. Any early morning seminary teacher with an infant is a walking zombie if that kid does not sleep. Often teachers have issues with weight gain (lack of exercise, I have seen this 2-3 times) and issues with a spouse due to excessive tiredness/crabbiness.

    Never thought of the competition into BYU based on seminary atttendence. BYU Idaho is opening things up a bit in that regard for which I am glad.

  68. Jack on July 1, 2005 at 3:08 pm

    Mike,

    According to your math, the best thing to do would be to cancel seminary, period. (except in Utah, of course) Good thing none of those poor depraved youth, who are forced out of their beds at such ungodly hours, were born into the benighted industry of farming.

  69. Mike Christopherson on July 1, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Response to Matt, #64:

    Hey Matt, thanks for the response, and let me be more clear: I don’t think you can evaluate the evil of gambling or any other activity solely under the time-fritter analysis. I brought it up because it hadn’t really been addressed in the thread and because it is a more dominent ingredient in most of the evils that tempt me. Assessing the time-fritter component often tips the scales of the debate for me over whether something is harmless or sinful. And it works even better when coupled with the secondary effects/fruits analysis (which is most effective when applied to the individual activity and to the industry of which it is a part).

    Thus, maybe spending hours refinishing a chair, to use one your examples, diverts time that could have been spent going on splits with the missionaries or reading your scriptures, but it does result in something (hopefully) more beautiful than you started with. And I have learned from limited experience with home repairs that there is some value in learning how to do something yourself. Plus it’s work (not play, right? I mean in the common sense, not the philosophical one), even if you happen to enjoy it.

    By contrast, my Mormon-video-game-designing friend Cameron Dayton’s opinions notwithstanding, what good really comes from hours spent in front of a Playstation, other than hand-eye-controller coordination? I know many Mormon gamers argue that, depending on the game, you can learn all sorts of worthwhile stuff, but I don’t usually find such arguments persuasive. Look at the video-game industry: it’s top-selling games award higher points and level advancement for such acts as raping prostitutes and running over pregnant pedestrians. Fritter-factor (really high) + individual/industry effects (mass desensitivity to violence and crime, even if the game you happen to like doesn’t involve those elements) = evil for me. It’s hard to say that on some level, because I grew up battling my brothers in Joe Montana’s Sports Talk Football, RBI Baseball, and, later, NBA Jams on Sega Genesis. We had a lot of fun together. And I recognize the obvious extension of this argument to other forms of entertainment. I enjoy watching and discussing movies with my wife and friends, but I can’t really make an honest defense of too many of them as worthwhile or wholesome objects of my attention for 2 hours, especially when you look at the steady and intentional erosion of morality caused or at least aided by the film industry.

    Maybe most of us just decide on some level that being human involves periodically participating in some form of unproductive entertainment because the 24-7-gospel-activity alternative seems, instinctively, absurd and misguided in its own right. On the other hand, the message I get from church leaders (Brigham Young to President Hinckley) is that there all kinds of good, entertaining activities for us to participate in. For me, the time-fritter factor +_secondary effects formula is a more reliable selection standard than whether or not an activity is technically neutral.

  70. Kingsley on July 1, 2005 at 3:37 pm

    Gaming, in my experience, is a complete blank. I always feel hollow afterwards; I always feel that, fun as the experience was, it was essentially pointless. Part of the problem is that, unlike other time-wasters (say, Sienfeld) it seems impossible to quit after half an hour; you want to keep going and going and going. The problem holds for group gaming as well. You read stories of married men holed up in their offices half the night trying to raise their avatar just one more level, and you think: How tragic; and how pathetic. Surely Paul’s words about men and childish things apply here.

  71. Mike on July 1, 2005 at 4:31 pm

    Hi Jack #68:

    No, I am not saying that the sacrifice is not worth it. I am saying the sacrifice is enormous. I honor it without minimizing it. I think most farm kids before the invention of electricity (and definitely before TV suburbanized their lifestyle) went to bed early and arose early and got plenty of sleep.

    I am also trying to solicit other possible solutions from the minds geater than mine who might be on this site. One might be to do individual home study seminary. But since I think much more than conceptual learning of gospel principles, something along the lines of socialization or indoctrination, is going on in seminary, this would not work very well. Maybe on line seminary classes might work; all together in a chat room or something.

    I have watched the Jewish people struggle with some of the same issues that we struggle with. One thing they do is walk to church. Another is to invest a lot of money into big community centers. This results in a majority of the Jews, at least those who want to be involved, tending to concentrate in certain small areas close to the synagogue and many of these transportation issues diminish. We are scattered around to thin. If all the families in our ward with seminary students could agree on living near and sending their kids to one high school they could hold seminary in an empty room at the high schoool and save an hour or two of wasted time every morning.

    Another idea might be to get into the private school business. I think our extensive and strong organization would give us an advantage over just about any other church or other organization. Especially with BYU as a large private flagship. If you look at the number of Mormons in this area and how widely they are scattered around, it might not appear to be very effective. But I think that many non-LDS would beat a path to our door if we had some of the best private schools and it might be a good way to convert their children with high long term retention. Possibly more effective than all the knocking on doors we do now. Missionaries could help teach, go back to BYU or elsewhere to get teaching degrees and populate staff positions at Mormon private schools. Remember how much some of you wanted to get into the CES system when you were fresh off your missions?

    Jsut some thoughts…. Hey weren’t we talking about gambling? Sorry for the Hi Jack.

  72. Jack on July 1, 2005 at 6:21 pm

    Mike,

    I’m one of those who went to early morning seminary and flunked high school. But my flunking high school had only to do with my complete and utter lack of interest in it. I would ditch and go to the library and read what I wanted–which reading consisted mostly of books on model railroading. So, as you’ve probably already noticed, I have a bias toward early morning seminary because it was the one good thing happening in my education at the time.

    Re you thoughts on private schooling; generally, I’m for it. It certainly would have made a world of difference in my life–EMS aside. But, I doubt that we’ll see the Church do anything akin to what you propose in our life time–except, perhaps, in some under developed areas of the world.

    Maybe one day the board of education will become broad minded enough to consider a quota of religious studies as a partial fullfillment of requirements for social studies. If they can encourage awareness in Islamic studies–then who knows? Maybe the idea will snowball into something like allowing a little release time in order to accommodate all religious bents.

    There is a long silence followed by a big: “Nah”.

  73. Kingsley on July 1, 2005 at 7:12 pm

    Jack, you know that the one surefire way to get the West to (a) take a sensitive look at your religion, and (b) require everyone else to as well, is — declare war on it.

  74. Dan Barnes on July 2, 2005 at 7:58 pm

    So if I play a certain game that some call gam-bling, and am good enought to win at it. And, I give the money to the PEF am I OK? Please say yes, so my conscience (and my wife) will let me play again.

    Some games are less chance than others. I can’t win at Golf, but I sure could at P-oker.

  75. Seth Rogers on July 3, 2005 at 11:56 am

    RE: #74

    Read the account of the prophet chewing-out King Saul for sparing some of the enemy’s livestock for burnt offerings when he was expressly instructed to kill everything (including the animals).

  76. Jack on July 3, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    Does that mean no more golf?

  77. Me on July 4, 2005 at 10:40 pm

    “Casinos are designed to do one thing, and it does that one thing extremely well: to take the funds of the gambler and to line the pockets of the casino owner.”

    So are Walmarts, and any other business for that matter.

  78. A. Greenwood on July 5, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Walmart and most other businesses are also designed to deliver a product or a service. Do you really think there is no difference between, say, the equipment rental company just down the street from my house and the casino just up the street? If you do, you are wrong.

  79. lyle on July 5, 2005 at 9:34 am

    Thomas Jefferson didn’t gamble or allow gambling in his home. :)

  80. A Ninny Moose on September 22, 2005 at 3:47 pm

    79.:

    He was too busy fornicating with his slaves.

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