The growth of gambling

News item: Booming with three new mega-hotel-casinos, Las Vegas now seems mainstream. But that's only because the rest of America has become more like Las Vegas. (Time magazine, Jan. 10, 1994.)

News item: Canada's indigenous people, struggling with chronic unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction and high suicide rates, are staking their dreams on casinos. The tribes say gambling dens are their first real opportunity to shake the stigma of government dependency. They hope the casinos will create thousands of jobs and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. (Reuters News Service, July 7, 1994.)News item: To lure hotel investment, the Namibian government is expected to legalize gambling. The success of casinos in South Africa has given them an almost mythical luster in Namibia, which is also considering a state lottery. (World Press Review, July 1994 p. 4.)

Nothing succeeds, apparently, like excess. The lure of instant riches, the movement of various forms of gambling from the clutches of organized crime to the coffers of state and local government is one of the sad commentaries on life in this modern age.

And, as the smattering of news items above attests, the gambling phenomenon is not just confined to the shores of America. Worldwide, governments are turning to this human weakness for gambling to shore up sagging budgets and to assess an invisible "tax" on people - usually on those least able to pay it.

As prophets throughout the ages have warned, the proceeds from gambling are filthy lucre. The human urge to receive something for nothing has been well detailed throughout the centuries. What is new in this modern era is that gambling - which was once shunned as immoral behavior - now borders on the acceptable.

As recently as 1978, Nevada was the only state in the United States that allowed gambling. Today, 37 states have lotteries, and there are more casinos in Minnesota than in Atlantic City. (Time magazine Jan. 10, 1994, p. 45.) Only Utah and Hawaii still outlaw all forms of gambling.

Sports betting, office pools and numerous other forms of gambling abound almost routinely. Where organized crime once tried to separate people from their money, we now find many local and state governments filling that role.

Many governments view their gambling revenues as a way to unburden the homeowner or local resident, shifting the "tax" to the tourist or the gambler. That, too, is a sad commentary on today's society: The very element established to protect citizens from criminal activity is now preying upon people's greed to entice them to turn their food money or education dollars into lottery tickets.

What governments may not recognize is that the homeowner or the local resident still bears the burdens associated with gambling - the increased criminal activity, social ills and degradation - even if the "locals" aren't engaged in the activity.

Thus the return of riverboat gambling to America's Midwestern waterways is seen as a "historical" event, instead of a way to tap tourist greed. Nevada casinos advertise widely to lure not just gamblers, but entire families to "casino theme parks" or "entertainment meccas." Even the term gambling has been replaced by the more entertainment oriented "gaming," a seemingly less-harsh word that doesn't carry the criminal stigma.

President Ezra Taft Benson declared emphatically, "We should oppose gambling in all of its forms, including the parimutuel betting at horse races. We should refrain from card playing, against which we have been counseled by the leaders of the Church." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson p. 460.)

For the Latter-day Saints, it is not enough to not play cards these days. We cannot tolerate any form of gambling. And why is that?

Because gambling is a social ill that begets other social ills - alcoholism, criminal activity and immorality. Just as society moves to stamp out the ills of tobacco - for health reasons as well as the addictive reasons - another addictive behavior - gambling - seems to be gaining strength.

As President Spencer W. Kimball noted: "From the beginning we have been advised against gambling of every sort. The deterioration and damage comes to the person, whether he wins or loses, to get something for nothing, something without effort, something without paying the full price." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball pp. 355-56.)

Gambling is not wholesome fun or "historical" entertainment. Gambling, despite the shiny wrappings, contains nothing but misery inside the package.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed