“Gambling Is ‘Morally Wrong, Politically Unwise,’ says Elder Oaks,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 76–77
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve, speaking at a Ricks College devotional assembly January 6, said gambling is both “morally wrong” and “politically unwise.”
He noted that lotteries and other forms of gambling are immoral and said that it is regrettable that governments would tolerate gambling and reprehensible that they would promote it.
Elder Oaks quoted the current First Presidency and earlier Church leaders in emphasizing the Church’s unyielding opposition to gambling in any form. He also quoted journalists, representatives of other religions, and government agencies who warn of the evils of gambling.
“Gambling is a game of chance that takes without giving value in return,” he said, adding that news coverage of lotteries and other gambling “only tells of the winners. All are encouraged to ignore the reality that the winner has been enriched at the expense of a multitude of losers.
“A state-sponsored lottery,” he said, “is sugar-coated with the phony sweetness of a good cause,” such as responding to state financial needs, while both moral and financial costs are ignored.
“Gambling tends to corrupt its participants,” Elder Oaks said. “Its philosophy of something for nothing undermines the virtues of work, industry, thrift, and service to others.”
Elder Oaks, a onetime state supreme court justice and former president of Brigham Young University, said gamblers commonly deprive themselves, often impoverish their families, and sometimes steal from others to finance their indulgence.
Seemingly innocent state-sponsored lotteries, he said, can ultimately lead to highly visible public gambling with its associated immoral influences of crime, prostitution, and alcohol.
Regarding political objections to gambling, Elder Oaks said, “Gambling is bad political policy. … A law that permits gambling is hard to justify, and a law that sponsors or promotes gambling is a sure loser.”
He cited several reasons gambling is politically unwise, including the fact that “gambling undercuts productivity and encourages crime.”
The philosophy of something for nothing “or sometimes for far less than it is worth is at the root of a multitude of crimes: theft, robbery, looting, embezzlement, fraud, and many other kinds of plunder.”
Elder Oaks quoted the editor of Saturday Review who said of New York State’s legalization of gambling, “The first thing that is obvious is that New York State itself has become a predator in a way that the Mafia could never hope to match.”
Gambling is also a costly way to raise revenue for public purposes, he said, citing the fact that between sixty to seventy-five cents of every dollar spent on lottery tickets goes to operating expenses and prizes. In contrast, most methods of state taxation cost only one to two cents to bring in each dollar of revenue. Elder Oaks quoted the 2 September 1986 issue of Newsweek: “The strongest case against lotteries may simply be that they are inefficient.”
Experience has shown, Elder Oaks said, that the effects of gambling impose increased government expenditures for social welfare and law enforcement.
“The social effects of gambling have been noted throughout history,” he said, citing the experience England had with lotteries in the nineteenth century. A Parliamentary committee described the effects of lotteries in 1808. The committee noted that people who had lived in comfort and respectability were “reduced to poverty and distress, domestic quarrels, assaults, and the ruin of family peace; fathers deserting their families, mothers neglecting their children, wives robbing their husbands of the earnings of months and years, and people pawning clothing, beds, and wedding rings in order to indulge in speculation.” England abolished lotteries a few years later.
Elder Oaks said advocates of legalized gambling argue that their games will eliminate illegal gambling, “but there is no evidence that this has occurred. Instead, legalized gambling wins new participants, which expand the market and the potential revenues of illegal gambling.”
He also noted that state lotteries provide only a small percentage of government revenues and that they primarily benefit only businesses such as gambling suppliers and convenience stores.
“As should be evident to every thinking person, a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base,” he said. “That is true of all the criminal law, most of the laws regulating families, businesses, and commercial transactions, many of the laws governing property, and a host of others.”
“Jesus taught us to give,” Elder Oaks said. “Satan, the adversary, teaches men to take—forcibly if necessary, deviously if feasible, continuously if possible. Whatever encourages men to take from one another without giving value in return serves the cause of Satan.
“Gambling is a game of chance that takes without giving value in return,” he added.
Elder Oaks quoted the words of Elder Richard L. Evans, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve, regarding gambling: “At best it wastes time and produces nothing. At worst it becomes a ruinous obsession and fosters false living by encouraging the futile belief that we can continually get something for nothing.”
In conclusion, Elder Oaks urged Latter-day Saints to oppose and avoid participation in gambling in every form. “If members of our Church do not oppose immoral and pernicious practices, who will? If not now, when? We can make a difference! May God help us to do so.”