I Have a Question

Print Share

    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

    Are lotteries legitimate means of financing public needs?

    William D. Oswald, an attorney and regional representative. Lotteries are a form of gambling in which people buy numbered tickets. Winners are determined at random. Absolutely no skill is involved in picking the winning numbers and only a few—sometimes only one individual—will win a prize. The prizes, however, are big because the chances of winning are so small—sometimes no more than 1 in 3.5 million!

    Because of the large revenues generated by lotteries, even public lotteries designed to support charities have been used for private greed. In the past, criminals have used lottery money to bribe public officials, to corrupt newspapers, to control banks, and to suppress opposition with lavish payoffs. In the U.S., for example, the last big lottery was so corrupt and such a national disgrace that federal laws were enacted to stop it.

    There is now a trend by governments, especially those which find themselves in financial trouble, to legalize this form of gambling as a means of financing certain public purposes. These state-supported lotteries are set up to collect monies for such public purposes as meeting the needs of the elderly or financing education. Colorado’s lottery profits go to state parks, Pennsylvania’s go to senior citizens, and Arizona’s go to transportation. Lotteries have now been made legal in twenty-two states in the United States, and proposals have been introduced in Congress for a national lottery, which, advocates claim, could quickly and painlessly raise several billion dollars a year to reduce the growing federal deficit.

    With the lottery issue becoming more and more a topic for public debate, Latter-day Saints should ask themselves: Is it now appropriate for government to finance public needs through lotteries, when for most of our history gambling was punished as a vice?

    The words of Jesus remind us that before undertaking certain activities, it is appropriate for one to sit down first, and count the cost. (See Luke 14:28.) Before supporting any legislation which would legalize or extend lotteries as a means of financing the needs of the public, Latter-day Saints should address the following questions.

    1. What Is the Cost to Society?

    The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us “that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.” (D&C 134:1.)

    It doesn’t take much research to show that a state-sponsored lottery doesn’t benefit mankind or protect the good and safety of society; it hurts them. Indeed, the cost of state sponsored lotteries, in moral and human terms, is extremely high.

    All gambling, even legalized gambling, is parasitic because it creates no economic goods and no real wealth. At most, it merely takes money away from many and gives it to a few. Lotteries discourage thrift, and the publicity given the winners encourages even more people to throw their money away in pursuit of the illusion of instant wealth. Thinking they can get what they want without working for it, people lose sight of the work ethic and begin looking for the mythical “easy road to wealth.” There’s some indication, in fact, that legalizing gambling increases its illegal forms by stimulating the demand for all types of gambling. 1

    Ultimately the taxpayers pick up the real costs of government-sponsored lotteries by paying the price for lost jobs, broken families, and the impoverishment, crime, and violence often brought on by compulsive gambling.

    2. What Is the Cost to the State?

    Lotteries are an extremely expensive way to raise money. In one state, it is estimated that up to two-thirds of the total lottery sales are taken out before anything goes to finance public needs; thus, only one-third of the dollars of lottery sales are used to meet public needs. 2

    Furthermore, study after study indicates that it is the poor who most heavily patronize lotteries. The economically disadvantaged—those who feel trapped in a cycle of unemployment and welfare—are the first to look to lotteries as their one big chance to reverse the fortunes of life. The very people who can least afford to buy tickets are the very ones who purchase most of the tickets. In this sense, lotteries transfer the cost of government services to those who can least afford it.

    One of America’s foremost students of gambling concludes: “As a revenue source, the state lottery is one of the most regressive taxes known and imposes by far the heaviest relative burden on those least able to pay.” 3

    The landmark United States Government study on gambling entitled “Gambling in America” concurs: “The Lottery is one of the more regressive forms of gambling—that is, people in the low income categories spend proportionately more on it than those in the highest income brackets. The money for the lottery comes most from those who can least afford it, worsening their conditions and making them more dependent on aid from the taxpayers.” 4

    How self-defeating for government to help the disadvantaged on the one hand, and then take money from them by exploiting their hopes on the other hand.

    One of the ironic features of state lotteries is that if they were subject to consumer protection laws, most would be declared illegal. The Wall Street Journal carried an article not long ago entitled “State Lotteries: The Only Legal Swindle.” After dissecting the misleading nature of lottery advertising, the article ended with this penetrating comment: “It is ironic that today not even the sleaziest moneylender is permitted to do things that state lotteries do as a matter of routine.” 5

    Senator Durenberger of Minnesota, chairman of a United States Senate Committee which held hearings on the conduct of state lotteries, recently concluded: “You can’t run a successful lottery by telling the whole truth. You need hard sell promotion, often vague and misleading about the odds and the prizes. That enterprise of parting the sucker from his dollar is questionable enough in the free marketplace; it’s no business for a state or federal government whose purpose is to serve and protect the people.” 6

    3. What Is the Cost to the Individual?

    It should come as no surprise that the growth of lotteries has been accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of compulsive gamblers. 7 Like any activity that produces hopes and anticipation, gambling can become addictive.

    In 1979, Johns Hopkins University became the first major medical center in the United States to establish a Compulsive Gambling Counseling Center. Psychiatrists report an increasing number of pathological gamblers who are seeking medical help for habits that have gotten out of control. “Gambling,” says one person who counsels compulsive gamblers, “is an equal opportunity destroyer.” 8

    There are no verifiable figures on the total number of compulsive gamblers in the U.S., but all reliable estimates suggest that at least two and maybe as high as eight million people in the United States are addicted to gambling. It cuts across all lines, and experts say it’s getting worse.

    Lotteries only exacerbate the problem. The president of the National Foundation on the Study and Treatment of Pathological Gambling says that lotteries may serve to introduce gambling to those who otherwise would shun it. “People who have never bet before, seeing a state-run lottery with the imprimatur of government upon it, might buy a ticket,” he says. “Buying the first lottery ticket might be compared to a future drug addict taking his first puff on a cigarette. It’s a starting point.” 9

    4. What Have the Prophets Said about the Cost of Gambling?

    Latter-day prophets such as President Brigham Young and President Lorenzo Snow have spoken out against gambling. 10 President Joseph F. Smith raised his voice against the evils of gambling, 11 and in 1925, President Heber J. Grant and his counselors warned the Saints against this vice when they said, “The Church has been and now is unalterably opposed to gambling in any form.” 12

    As recently as October 1985, President Gordon B. Hinckley reaffirmed the position of the Church against lotteries when he said, “There can be no question about the moral ramification of this practice. A lottery is a form of gambling.” 13

    Ultimately, the decision about a lottery is a question of moral values and involves decisions regarding the kind of religious, social, and cultural environment in which we want to live.

    If we look at people through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, we must see our fellow citizens not as potential lottery customers to be exploited, but as children of a common father whose “worth … is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10.)

    Jesus loved the individual. His teachings are founded upon the principle that each individual has merit in the eyes of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion. Jesus had compassion on the poor and needy. He healed their wounds and restored the fallen. He taught that human life is to be used to further God’s work, which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)

    Gambling degrades human dignity and saps moral strength as it promotes a philosophy of getting something for nothing. Gambling takes more out of society than it puts in, impoverishing the many and enriching the few.

    Lotteries have no place in an enlightened society. It is morally wrong for a state or a nation to exploit the weaknesses of its citizens through sponsorship of lotteries. On the contrary, government should act to restrict gambling, not encourage or sponsor it. That some governments now promote what they once enforced as being unlawful or illegal is symptomatic of a syndrome of greed and covetousness and reflects a deterioration of public and political morality. It is time for members of the Church to voice their concern to legislators and government leaders to say that the whole lottery scheme is so gross in its human toll that public policy requires that lotteries be prohibited.


  •   1.

    Christian Science Monitor, 15 July 1985.

  •   2.

    California Proposition 37, The State Lottery Initiative. See Don’t Gamble with California’s Future pamphlet, Coalition Against Legalizing Lotteries, Inc., 1984, p. 4.

  •   3.

    Daniel B. Suits, in Don’t Gamble with California’s Future, p. 8.

  •   4.

    Final Report of the Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling, Government Printing Office, 1976.

  •   5.

    Wall Street Journal, 14 June 1984.

  •   6.

    Remarks by Senator David Durenberger to the U.S. Senate subcommittee, Oct. 1984, quoted in Deseret News.

  •   7.

    Christian Science Monitor, 12 July 1985.

  •   8.

    John Steele quoted in Christian Science Monitor, 12 July 1985.

  •   9.

    Robert L. Custer quoted in Christian Science Monitor, 12 July 1985.

  •   10.

    Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 326–27.

  •   11.

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., comp. Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:304–6.

  •   12.

    Improvement Era, Sept. 1926, p. 1100.

  •   13.

    Ensign, Nov. 1985, p. 52.

  • Inasmuch as Latter-day Saints believe in marriage for eternity, how do we explain Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 22:29–30?

    David H. Yarn, Jr., emeritus professor of philosophy and instructor of religion, Brigham Young University. These two verses are part of a larger context which commences with verse 23, as follows:

    “The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,

    “Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

    “Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:

    “Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.

    “And last of all the woman died also.

    “Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.

    “Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.

    “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:23–30.)

    To understand these verses, we need to understand the context in which the Sadducees asked their question and the context in which Jesus answered it.

    First, it should be emphasized that this is a hypothetical situation presented to the Lord by the Sadducees, who, as the scripture itself asserts, did not even believe in the resurrection. They were simply doing what both they and the Pharisees so often did—asking the Lord questions simply to bait him, to see if they could catch him contradicting what Moses, the great Lawgiver, had said.

    The question itself was based upon the teachings of Moses: “If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.” (Matt. 22:24; see also Deut. 25:5–10.) In the hypothetical case suggested by the Sadducees, in which seven brothers each had been married to a woman in turn, the question was, “In the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?”

    According to Dummelow’s A Commentary on The Holy Bible, “The point raised by the Sadducees was often debated by the Jewish doctors, who decided that a ‘woman who married two husbands in this world is restored to the first in the next.’” (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927, p. 698.) Most Jews at the time believed in a material resurrection, and so the question had some importance to them. (Ibid.)

    On the other hand, although the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, they were more than happy to use it to try to “bring Jesus into contempt and ridicule with the multitude by asking Him a question which they thought He could not answer.” (Ibid., p. 697.)

    But Jesus did answer them, and he began with a mild rebuke: “Ye do err,” he said, “not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” Consider the handicap the Sadducees had placed upon themselves. They did not really understand the scriptures—and probably had no wish to do so on this point. They were steeped in false doctrine, and without the gift of the Holy Ghost had no access to the revelatory power of the Spirit. The Savior’s answer, therefore, was not a full doctrinal explanation of the doctrine of eternal marriage. Instead, he quickly defused their argument and then testified of the resurrection using the scriptures that the Sadducees held most sacred.

    The Savior effectively dismissed their question on marriage by stating that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” In that way, the Savior turned to the more fundamental issue of the Sadducee’s disbelief in resurrection. Of the resurrection, the Savior bore certain testimony:

    “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,

    “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt. 22:31–32.)

    At this point, the Sadducees were silenced. In Mark’s account of the episode, the Lord adds, “Ye therefore do greatly err.” (Mark 12:27.) The Savior had made their error painfully clear by referring to the Law—Exodus 6:3 [Ex. 6:3]—for support. The Law was considered by all Jews, Sadducees included, as the highest authority in the canon of scripture. They couldn’t very well argue with the scriptures they held in highest esteem.

    What, then, do we make of the Savior’s statement that “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage?”

    First, we see that it was made in response to an attempt by the Sadducees to trap the Lord. Consequently, it would not have been the Lord’s final word on the subject. Why should the Lord scatter pearls before them that they would only trample underfoot? (See Matt. 7:6.) They were no more prepared to listen to a discourse on eternal marriage than they were prepared to accept the reality of the resurrection.

    Second, the Lord did not say there would be no people in the married state in the resurrection, but that there would be no marriages made in the resurrection.

    Third, we must be clear about the “they” who are neither marrying nor being given in marriage. The context of the scriptures just cited suggests a generic rather than a specific meaning. Simply put, that means no marriages are made in the resurrection. The Lord was warning the Sadducees. They were Jews of the day who had rejected him and therefore had no access to the higher ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. How could these men, whom Jesus had called a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), qualify for the highest blessings of the celestial kingdom?

    What the Savior declared of the Sadducees who would later have part in his death is hardly applicable to his Saints who, through the ordinances of the priesthood and their righteousness, qualify for exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which the Lord equates with eternal marriage. (See D&C 132:19–24.)

    The Savior made statements on other occasions that support the idea of eternal marriage. To the Pharisees, who at least believed in the resurrection, he said: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

    “And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

    “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:4–7; italics added.)

    The marriage of Adam and Eve, performed prior to the Fall, was certainly done in an eternal context (see Gen. 2:18–24), and the authority to bind on earth and in heaven was given to Peter and the other Apostles. (See Matt. 16:19; Matt. 18:18.)

    Although this authority was lost with the priesthood through apostasy, it has been restored in our day. The Lord’s promise is that those marriages performed by his authority and “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood” (D&C 132:19) shall endure forever.