Pres Hinkley’s Valiant Attempt to Get our Attention

By: Steve H - April 08, 2005

Watching conference last weekend, I was most caught by Pres. Hinkley’s talk on gambling. I was less struck by his subject than by the emphatic nature of his discourse. He seemed to be doing a number of things simply to get the saints to take him seriously.

As I see his methods, he did the following:

  • First, he gave reasons why gambling is wrong. To me, he seemed to be pre-emting the “what’s so wrong with it?” that he knew would come. He gave us a reason so that we wouldn’t dismiss it as something we didn’t understand.
  • Second, he cited such an overload of past authority that it would be unmistakable that he wasn’t saying anything new. He was really laying it on so that no-one could say that the brethren were out of harmony on the issue or that it was some new opinion that the prophet had gotten somehow worked up about.
  • Third, he specifically added his own witness of the counsel, as if to say, “No, nothing has changed. I’m the prophet right now, and I still say it’s not OK to gamble.
  • Fourth, he gave incredibly specific examples, including very low dollar amounts so that no one could assume that they weren’t involved since their variety of gambling costed so little.
  • Fifth, he stated in no uncertain terms that it was official church policy, so that no one could say it was “just his opinion.”

Given the propensity I have seen lately to say that the prophet’s counsel is either simple opinion, open to our acceptance or rejection, or largely a matter of cultural baggage, I’d say he was not overreacting by spending as much time as he did in defining and proscribing what would seem like a very simple activity to define and proscribe.

Additionally, while some may wonder at his specificity in defining gambling and the detailed examples, I would say that he is simply realizing that those who most need his counsel are also those looking for ways around it.

As I watched the prophet, I think I may have sympathized as an instructor. I thought of the ways my assignments are designed with the idea in mind that some of my students will try as they might to make the least of them(not all–I have many students that will do great things with even the most ill-designed of my assignments) . It made me review my own reactions to the prophet’s counsel and ask myself how dedicated I am to sustaining him.


  1. You knew I’d be the first to comment 🙂

    Okay Stephen, I’m truly willing to follow the Prophet’s council. I always have been. However, what exactly does this mean in this case?

    I’m still trying to understand if he’s suggesting gambling is inherently wrong. If it is, fine, no more poker (or anything like unto it) no matter what, no matter what you’re betting, whether it be money or chips or candy or points. The problem with this is that according to his definition of why it’s wrong, you eliminate most strategic games we play as well (in addition to those other things in life that fit that definition).

    Now, the second possibility is that he’s saying that those things are not inherently wrong, but that they lead us to do wrong things and get ourselves into bad situations (addiction, loss of money/time, intensity, etc.). If this is the case, then playing poker for candy is fine as long as it doesn’t lead you to play for quarters.

    In other words, it’s either inherently wrong or it’s not and I don’t know which one he’s saying it is. Do you?

    Comment by Rusty — 4/8/2005 @ 9:38 pm

  2. Wow! How much rationalizing can you throw at the prophet’s message Rusty? I don’t mean to assume, but it sounds like you play poker and President Hinckley’s message hit you where you live. His message was clear. Stop gambling. Why strain at a nat. Hmm, m&m’s or pennies. Are they okay? Seems to be looking beyond the mark. Avoid the appearance of evil ought to cover the petty examples. I don’t recall President Hinckely speaking in generalities about games of chance, sitting around as a family playing Risk. Typically people don’t bet their wages on the game. If they are Latter-day Saint and are betting on Risk, it is no stretch to see that it falls under the umbrella of gambling. The message was not that complicated.

    Comment by Mark — 4/8/2005 @ 11:30 pm

  3. Rusty,
    Just so you know, I had planned on putting this up before your post, and I do think it’s good to try our utmost to figure out what the prophet is saying and do it. As long as our attitude truly is to prayerfully ask, “how can I do what the prophet is asking?” then, I think that does take a certain amount of asking what it is precisely he is asking. The poker without money question has been around for some time, and I don’t know if it’s been answered here, though I think the poker with money of any sort question has. Please don’t think this was meant to pick on you. It wasn’t. I was mostly just saying I saw Pres. Hinkley approaching his talk in a way I hadn’t seen, and it made me look in a new way at sustaining the prophet.

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/9/2005 @ 1:48 am

  4. Mark,
    Thanks for the call to repentance. It’s always nice when trying to sincerely understand a teaching and someone tells you how ridiculous you’re being and to just “obey!” Very helpful.

    I shall overlook your self-righteous condecension and address the points you make: First of all, you’re wrong, I don’t play poker. Ever. I’ve played maybe eight times in my life (only once with money and that was in high school, and the rest were with candy or chips). Add a half-dozen games of black jack (never with money) and about $5 total lost on slot machines. That sums up the entirety of my gambling over my lifespan.

    You say you don’t mean to assume, but why do you assume I’m trying to justify rather than to just understand? Why do you assume I’m a gambler trying to keep gambling rather than a gamer trying to keep gaming? Can’t we take a few days and “study it out in our mind (and discuss with others)” before we come to a conclusion as to what the Prophet might mean? You talk about it as if it’s perfectly clear, black and white, easy. I’m happy that it is so for you, but these things are gray for some people.

    You use the old “appearance of evil” argument but President Hinckley NEVER used that argument. That had NOTHING to do with why we aren’t supposed to gamble. Why do you use a rational that he doesn’t use?

    So, Mark, is it the money he objects to or is it gambling? That’s what I’m trying to get at. Please answer that question (maybe this time think of me as someone who wants to understand what President Hinckley is trying to say, rather than assuming I’m rationalizing sin).

    Comment by Rusty — 4/9/2005 @ 1:55 am

  5. Stephen,
    That’s cool you were planning on posting it before mine. I guess now after the discussion on my blog has waned, we can discuss it in a different light over here 🙂

    I didn’t feel you were pickign on me at all. You make a very good point about how emphatic President Hinckley was, that he really was trying to make sure we all got his point. Though in my mind I’m now even MORE confused (as we’ve discussed). I’d like it to be as simple as it was in my head before, but with his addition of a few absolutes, I understand it less.

    I’m trying to distill the issue down into one question and the best I’ve come up with is what I just asked Mark, “is it the money or is it the gambling?” Did President Hinckley answer that clearly? Is this the right question?

    Comment by Rusty — 4/9/2005 @ 2:05 am

  6. Rusty, my apologies.


    Comment by Mark — 4/9/2005 @ 8:52 am

  7. Isn’t it wonderful when you make yourself look like an idiot. “I am Mak, hear me roar.” Hmm, can I spell my own name?!

    I suppose, Rusty, you caught the butt end of my frustration with what I experience sometimes while blogging. I often feel and think that “intellectualizing” is a mask for “disobedience.” You are right, I assumed. I am sorry for the incorrect assumption. I suppose if I knew more about your comparison between gaming and gambling, if I correctly understand what you are doing, it might have been easier for me to “read between the lines” of your post. As I reread what you wrote taking your response into account, it becomes clearer now. Thanks for overlooking what appears to be “self-righteous and condescending” when it really was just misunderstanding. I suppose reading into my post was easy to do as well.

    Comment by Mark — 4/9/2005 @ 9:04 am

  8. Mark,

    I think you may be misinterpreting the meaning of ‘the appearance of evil’.

    Comment by Kim Siever — 4/9/2005 @ 9:07 am

  9. Thanks for those links, Kim. Then again, I’ve never googled ‘the appearance of evil’ which appears to be what I should have done in the first place.

    At any rate, I’ve often tried to explain to people that the verse does not mean what they think it means; not to mention all the problematic issues that follow the belief that anything that looks like it might be wrong is actually wrong just because it looks like it could be.

    In the case of the poker issue, I don’t think the commandement covers the tivialities at all. And the trivialities are significant becuase lots of people do play with nickels and dimes, because they don’t have chips.

    I think the question of what constitutes gambling and whether it’s inherently wrong is a good one. I once went to Las Vegas with some friends. We didn’t drop a single quarter in a slot, but then went to the arcade upstairs and dropped seven bucks trying to win a stupid stuffed animal we never got. Seemed strangely ironic. I thought I would have had a lot more fun blowing the seven dollars downstairs. But apparantly one is wrong and the other is not.

    Comment by Eric Russell — 4/9/2005 @ 9:40 am

  10. Mak (er… Mark),
    No problem about the misunderstanding. I’m sorry for the name calling. You just caught me on the butt end of my frustration with blogging, that people sometimes think I’m trying to justify rather than understand 🙂 For what it’s worth, I do understand that frustration about blogging though. It’s often hard to tell when someone is trying to justify and when someone is trying to understand.

    Comment by Rusty — 4/9/2005 @ 10:05 am

  11. I think I was most surprised by your point number three. He could have easily said, “the Church’s position has not deviated from its inception – Gambling is wrong.” But he read oodles of direct quotes. Why?

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/9/2005 @ 11:15 am

  12. Jon,

    I too was surprised by all of the direct quotes. I’m used to seeing such techniques by other GA’s who want to support their own message. I’m not used to seeing the Prophet amass an arsenal of quotes like that. I think that the reason goes along with what Stephen was saying. The Church’s position hasn’t changed – if there has been any change it has been in the culture of the members of the Church. Just because it is now on ESPN and not in a smokey bar doesn’t make it acceptable It is just as wrong now as it was then, therefore, the counsel given then is just as applicable now.

    I’m also of the opinion that the commandment doesn’t cover the trivialities. Of course, as Eric mentions, it’s not black and white. My parents told me that after they were first married they were playing Risk. My Dad, who is quite competitive, was gleefully slaughtering my Mom’s armies and conquering the world. Only after several minutes did my Dad look up and notice my Mom was crying. The game had made him act in such a way that her feelings were hurt. That night they took the game and threw it away and haven’t played since. That said, they frequently battle it out over a friendly game of Boggle and no feelings are hurt – perhaps because my Mom (a writer) usually wins.
    Ok, so that last bit was a bit off-topic, but my point in rambling was that “gambling” can be many things.

    One of my favorite pieces of his talk was where Pres. Hinckley says “There are better ways to spend one’s time. There are better pursuits to occupy one’s interest and energy.” I hadn’t heard that spelled out as an argument against gambling, but it’s as good as any. If people spent less time away at poker night and more time at home playing Monopoly with the family the world would be a better place. 😉

    Comment by C. Swinton — 4/9/2005 @ 12:35 pm

  13. The game had made him act in such a way that her feelings were hurt.

    Imagine if it were Splinter Cell. /end threadjack

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/9/2005 @ 5:26 pm

  14. Rusty,
    I just had a student come to me with this concern on Thursday, trying to rationalize continuing the habit of gambling because of this that and the other thing about what president Hinckley did or did not say. I suppose I read into your post my prior experience.

    Thanks for the links. Hopefully in the next little bit I can spend some time reading over the material there.

    Comment by Mark — 4/9/2005 @ 7:24 pm

  15. J,
    I’m sensing you have certain feelings about video games that are brewing inside. Let’s hear them!

    Comment by Rusty — 4/9/2005 @ 10:44 pm

  16. I think I was being more sarcastic than anything. I actually like video games and my sons have been playing on the net since they were born (2 and 4 yrs). While I forsook them a couple years back (right before I started writing my thesis), I have slowly picked them up again (playing with my sons/nephews).

    I don’t want to say that they are bad, but I just can’t get myself to play first person shooter games.

    Funny asides:
    I may be the only guy in Elder’s qourum without an X-box
    I had a bishop a couple of years back walk into PEC and announce that he had quite cold-turkey

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/10/2005 @ 12:10 am

  17. J,
    You really need to play Halo2. You’ll feel much better afterwards. I often play (on thesis breaks) with the two counsilors in my bishopric. It would REALLY shake things up if next Priesthood meeting the Prophet condemned video games. /really end threadjack (or maybe you can write a post on video games and we can discuss it without feeling guilty for not discussing gambling (sorry Stephen))

    Comment by Rusty — 4/10/2005 @ 12:34 am

  18. I never wanted this to be a peculiarly gambling post in the first place. The thing about what if the prophet gave a talk on video games is interesting. I, personally, can’t let myself play role-playing video games. I had a very peculiar experience that got me to quit that one, but I still play RTS and turn-based games. I think it quite interesting that so many folks I know have had the prompting to regulate their video game playing or quit altogether.
    That said, I know that several of the brethren have said this or that concerning video games as a waste of time. I also remember a conference talk that made reference to the commandment “thou shalt not kill,” and merely stated that it was strange that we would spend so much time getting good at pretending to kill things.
    This gets back to topic, promise. In seminary one day, my teacher came in and read a mock statement from the first presidency (the implications of that are perhaps another topic) about nto being able to go to the temple (for baptisms) if you were exclusively dating any one person before 18. A lot of us freaked out. I was not only dating someone, I was going steady with a non-member, which seemed extra bad to me at the time when he read this. I think I decided I would have to break up, but that’s always easy to say while the lesson is still going on. “Well, I’m not doing any of the things that could get me in trouble. I just don’t want to ask anyone else out, etc.” I think that it’s worthwhile to ask ourselves what we would have trouble giving up if asked, and to start to ask ourselves what things are worth giving up before we are asked. I think it prepares us to give up waht is requested, as well as to do those things that are requested of us. If the brethren declared 20% tithing tomorrow, or the start of a new united order, how many of us would sign on?

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/10/2005 @ 1:12 am

  19. President Hinckley did offer a variety of arguments against gambling, including at least one that does apply directly to video games: gambling wastes time that we could otherwise be using for better pursuits. But I’ve always understood the main moral argument against gambling to involve the idea of winning something for nothing. So the arcade game to win the stuffed animal that Eric Russell mentioned would seem to be directly implicated as well, no?

    From a behavioral perspective, this is all fine to me. No gambling, okay. I don’t gamble anyway. (For one thing, I’m a poor graduate student and I couldn’t possibly afford it.)

    But from an analytic perspective, it’s trickier. Is it okay to enter a basketball tournament that costs $50 to play and has a $200 first prize? Does the fact that its a contest of skill make a difference? But a poker tournament is also, at least in significant part, a contest of skill. I’m not sure I can understand a principle that distinguishes the obviously forbidden activities (poker, blackjack, betting on horse racing, slot machines, lotteries) from apparently kosher activities (scholarship contests, beauty pageants, sports competitions, writing contests, store drawings for prizes, etc.).

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — 4/10/2005 @ 7:28 am

  20. The video game ramifications of Pres. Hinkley’s talk would be a great post. Saddly in 5 minutes I will be on my way to an internet black whole. Consequenlty, someone should post on it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/10/2005 @ 10:29 am

  21. I think the prophet amassed a wonderful set of quotes and strictly did not mention face cards for a reason…. That way he could be clear on what position of the church had not changed, It seems that Face Cards and Gambling in the church doctrine are so intertwined that some people can not deviate between the two. I think the Prophet did a good job of judiciously pointing out what he was talking about without condemning or endorsing previous opinions of other leaders in the church regarding items associated with Gambling.
    I think video games are like books, there are good and bad. More bad than good, seems like. They need to make more 4 player coop games, and less first person shooters. I am looking forward to OSC’s Advent Rising, but nothing else tickles my fancy.
    I’ve always wonderered how the Council on Gambling affects the churches stance on Investing and the Stock Market…

    Comment by Matt WItten — 4/10/2005 @ 10:44 am

  22. Matt Witten and Roasted Tomatoes,
    The issues you raise have also been discussed recently here. Roasted Tomatoes, with your list of apparently kosher activities you made me think of a really interesting one in my line of work: spec work. An ad agency or design studio will sometimes do weeks or months of work (with no pay) on the chance that the potential client will buy the idea and be signed on as a client. Sometimes they’ll invest hundreds of thousands of dollars because it could potentially profit them millions. But this is shrouded as “business” so it’s acceptable. You’re right, there are countless “tricky” areas.

    Comment by Rusty — 4/10/2005 @ 1:04 pm

  23. Neither the Prophet, nor anyone I’ve read so far, has mentioned one aspect of poker – keeping a poker face. Is it harmful to the soul to bluff?

    Comment by yddy42 — 4/11/2005 @ 2:11 pm

  24. yddy42, that’s an interesting thought, but there are also lot of non-gambling games that involve bluffing.

    Stephen, where in his talk did President Hinckley refer to official church policy, and what is that policy?

    Comment by will — 4/11/2005 @ 3:22 pm

  25. To these statements of the position of the Church I add my own. The pursuit of a game of chance may seem like harmless fun. But there attaches to it an intensity that actually shows on the faces of those who are playing. And in all too many cases this practice, which appears innocent, can lead to an actual addiction. The Church has been and is now opposed to this practice. If you have never been involved in poker games or other forms of gambling, don’t start. If you are involved, then quit now while you can do so.

    He also quotes other authorities that say this is the policy of the church.
    As for tricky areas, I agree therea re a lot. I think that’s why Pes. Hinkley defines gambling in a number of ways so that we can sort of triangulate. As I see it, he lists a few characteristics of gambling, that also double as reasons to avoid it:
    1. You want something for nothing.
    Certainly not the case with the advertising.
    2. Only one person (or a few) get any return. The rest go home with nothing.
    This would be true even in professional gambling or other games that seem to require skill, but in which only one person wins.
    3. It is often addictive.
    4. It takes time away from other, more productive pursuits.
    As many have noted, perhasp there are other things that do this, and which would be best given up.
    5. Gambling is more intense than it’s masquerade as fun would lead us to imagine there would be.
    While I was on my mission, we were counseled not to play games of chance. I bought a Risk game. I know–stupid. It wasn’t gambling–no money involved, but what was I doing playing Risk, a time consuming game, on my mission. That could be a post of its own. I only played that game twice, but it was more than enough. It got intense, let me tell you. I put it away and it stayed in my suitcase for the rest of my mission.
    Anyway, I think the multiple points can help us to differentiate between gambling and other potentially risky things in our lives. I certainly put a lot of tiem and money into my education in English Literature. There were those who would have classed it as a risky thing–“What are you going to do with that.” I won’t go off on those who bash the liberal arts, but it seems to me that almost any investment of time and money can be risky. At the same time, I felt OK about taking my decision about a career choice to the Lord and asking whether I should do it. I don’t think I would feel good about asking for inspiration on whether to throw two or three cards in a hand of five-card draw. In-between, I think the degree to which we could ask for the Lord’s help if we needed it might be a good litmus test of whether we should be doing it. As far as video games. I wouldn’t be willing to ask for help passing to the next level, so I probably better never get to the point where getting past the level is important to me.

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/11/2005 @ 3:55 pm

  26. Thanks for the reference, Stephen. I would consider this a statement of position, rather than policy, which I know is ridiculously nitpicky of me. The church has also taken a position against lying, lustful thoughts, laziness, etc., but doesn’t have any policies regarding those issues. I noticed that President Hinckley didn’t say anything like the following:

    – Those who gamble on occasion shouldn’t have leadership callings.
    – Those who gamble regularly shouldn’t be issued temple recommends.
    – Working in a casino does not affect one’s standing in the church, but owning a casino does.

    Instead, he taught us a correct principle and left us to govern ourselves. Implicit in this is that we shouldn’t try to impose our personal application of the principle on other people. (Not that you were trying, but I’m sure that plenty in the church will now become self-appointed gambling cops.)

    Comment by will — 4/11/2005 @ 4:47 pm

  27. I have heard that members in Nevada get asked if they gamble as part of the temple interview, but that they can still work in casinos. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

    Comment by S. Hancock — 4/11/2005 @ 4:55 pm

  28. My understanding is that in Las Vegas they ask if you are working in gambling (i.e. on the tables) and you are not allowed to have a recommend if you do. Correct me if I’m wrong. I know they certainly talk about it.

    Comment by clark — 4/11/2005 @ 5:25 pm

  29. Browsing around today I found a useful list of “suggested reading” on gambling. 11 references in all.,8170,1569-1-139,00.html

    Comment by Mark — 4/11/2005 @ 6:08 pm

  30. Clark,

    I would have to ask again my friend who is from Reno. If I remember correctly there are plenty of active members holding current recommends who work in the casinos there. I also know an active member in Utah who owns a casino. She inherited it from her mother. She holds a current recommend. I wonder what will come from this talk, however. Will things change?

    Comment by Mark — 4/11/2005 @ 6:11 pm

  31. I found it interesting that the Prophet didn’t just focus on the wasting money aspect of gambling.

    He also called Poker addictive and seemed just as concerned with the fact that the teenager in his example was neglecting his studies. He wasn’t just dissing it because its a dishonest way to make a buck.

    He also mentioned that Poker breeds an unhealthy intensity in the participants. I found that remark particularly fascinating.

    So maybe it isn’t just about the money?

    Comment by Seth Rogers — 4/11/2005 @ 7:22 pm

  32. Mr. Hancock –

    I really quite like your analysis of triangulation. Sure wasting money is a bad thing, but it is not inherently gambling and consequently no proscribed by the prophet’s injunction. This apply’s to the video games as well. We can take peices of the Prophet’s council, but alone they do not gambling make. Using the whole we are able to discern….nice.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 4/11/2005 @ 7:47 pm

  33. Note I didn’t say working in the casino, but rather working the tables within the casino. (i.e. acting as the dealer)

    Comment by Clark Goble — 4/12/2005 @ 12:14 am

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