Gambling teens

A recent report in the New York Times turned a spotlight on a pastime that is gaining popularity among teenagers — gambling. There is evidence to suggest the trend is popular among those who are younger, as well.

What once was a vice that haunted grown-ups who found themselves too weak to resist ruining fortunes and family names is now a companion of teenagers struggling to mature and accept the responsibilities of adulthood. At a time in life when rebellion comes too easily, young people have often been tempted to experiment with games of chance. What is shocking about this report is that some teenagers today are hosting all-night poker parties with the blessing — and even the encouragement — of their parents.

Sometimes, parents will even sit in on the games.

Parents interviewed for the story typically referred to this practice as "harmless" and said it was better for their children to spend a night playing poker for small stakes at a neighbor's house than to be out drinking beer, doing drugs or getting into other mischief.

As if those were the only alternatives available.

There are few examples of moral decline as easy to chart as that associated with gambling. When the gambling industry wants a new inroad into mainstream society, as with the legalization of lotteries or the ability to operate casinos in places where such things previously were illegal, officials are quick to note the games will be limited to adults only. They mollify opponents by claiming empathy with the need to protect children and adolescents from games of chance and the lure associated with getting something for nothing.

And yet, when the culture embraces gambling as a legal and acceptable activity for adults, that acceptance soon filters down to the children. The New York Times report said many young people today play poker because they have seen contests on cable television channels. They have learned the names of the best players and try to imitate them.

With such widespread acceptance, both in the popular media and in the law, objections on moral grounds can begin to sound old-fashioned and unrealistic.

In a short period of time, millions of people have begun to lose touch with an important moral principle — one associated with work and thrift. This is a principle prophets have warned about throughout this dispensation. Perhaps one of the most forceful declarations came from President Joseph F. Smith, who said:

"While a simple game of cards in itself may be harmless, it is a fact that by immoderate repetition it ends in an infatuation for chance schemes, in habits of excess, in waste of precious time, in dulling and stupor of the mind, and in the complete destruction of religious feeling. These are serious results, evils that should and must be avoided by the Latter-day Saints." (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley has been no less emphatic. Speaking on the spread of state-run lotteries, he said, "That government now promotes what it once enforced laws against becomes a sad reflection on the deterioration of public and political morality in the nation.

"President Brigham Young spoke out against gambling. President Lorenzo Snow spoke against it. President Joseph F. Smith spoke very strongly against it; and, in 1925, President Heber J. Grant and his counselors said, 'The Church has been and now is unalterably opposed to gambling in any form.' " (Ensign, November 1985).

At present, gambling is estimated to be a $70 billion a year industry, and it will grow much larger as it spreads among vulnerable young people who are more likely to develop dependencies than are their elders.

The tendency of many, including the parents cited above, is to overlook the dangers of gambling because they may not be as readily apparent as the destruction that other vices, such as pornography, bring to lives and families. But the effects are serious. A world that forgets the value of hard work and thrift is sure to reap a host of troubles.