gamblingI’ve never been much of a gambler; my dad loves to play Solitaire (with real or computer cards), and it was a fun game.  We were taught that gambling was bad, and growing up thought it was a sin.  We played Uno, Crazy-Eights, and many card games with or without face cards.  With the Wheatmeister poll this weekend, it reminded me that a few months ago, my wife was concerned that my dad taught my son how to play Solitaire with face cards.  My reaction was “Are you serious?  This is a problem?”

The funny thing is that my sister likes to play Nertz, a game similar to Solitaire played with a deck of cards per person.  My wife has played without calling the face cards into question.  I’ve also played Rummy and Canasta on my mission.  I had heard that some Mormons thought face cards were evil, but I never understood why.  Hmmm, I wonder if this has something to do with the book Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie.  I looked under “face cards” but found nothing.  However, under “Card playing”, I found the following in all 3 editions (1958, 1966, 1979.)

Card Playing

See Apostasy, Gambling, Recreation.

President Joseph F. Smith has stated the position of the Church with reference to card playing in these words:  “Card playing is an excessive pleasure; it is intoxicating and, therefore, in the nature of vice.  It is generally the companion of the cigaret and the wine glass, and the latter lead to the poolroom and the gambling hall….Few indulge frequently in card playing in whose lives it does not become a ruling passion….A deck of cards in the hands of a faithful servant of God is a satire upon religion….Those who thus indulge are not fit to administer in sacred ordinances….The bishops are charged with the responsibility for the evil, and it is their duty to see that it is abolished….No man who is addicted to card playing should be called to act as a ward teacher; such men cannot be consistent advocates of that which they do not themselves practice.

“The card table has been the scene of too many quarrels, the birthplace of too many hatreds, the occasion of too many murders to admit one word of justification for the lying, cheating spirit which it too often engenders in the hears of its devotees….

“Card playing is a game of chance, and because it is a game of change it has its tricks.  It encourages tricks; its devotees measure their success at the table by their ability through devious and dark ways to win.  It creates a spirit of cunning and devises hidden and secret means, and cheating at cards is almost synonymous with playing at cards.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 328-332)

Members of the Church should not belong to bridge or other type of card clubs, and they should neither play cards not have them in their homes.  By cards I meant, of course, the spotted face cards used by gamblers.  To the extent that church members play cards they are in apostasy and rebellion.  Innocent non-gambling games played with other types of cards, except for the waste of time in many instances, are not objectionable.

The funny thing about face cards and gambling is that when I teach probability in my statistics classes, I teach that probability was discovered by mathematician Blaise Pascal because some gamblers came to him wanting to understand the math behind gambling better.  Gambling is one of the best ways to teach probability, and I know that statistics classes at BYU and BYU-Idaho use gambling problems to help students understand the concept.  (I’ve also heard that at BYU-Idaho, they have students write a paper on why gambling is bad.)

Some other quotes that I use in class:

  • “Las Vegas was built for people who are really bad at math….” Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller)
  • There are no casino games or bets where the house does not have a clear advantage. The odds either favor the house …or they get a commission. And if you are not familiar with basic information about the games you play or bets you make, you are just about a guaranteed loser. In short, casino owners are in business to make a profit. They did not build all those gorgeous hotels by giving away money.
  • In State Lottos, the payoff amount is determined after the state takes a cut.  “Some say instead that it’s a tax on people bad at math or statistics.”  In horse racing, the win is based on the amount bet on each horse.

I even teach that it may be easier to get struck by lightning than to win the lottery.  This article has been removed, but the headline remains:  Man struck by lightning buying lottery ticket.  I also note that casinos give patrons free alcohol to keep them gambling and make stupid decisions.  Those casinos know what they’re doing.

Lest anyone think I am encouraging vice and gambling, let me state clearly that gambling is dumb.  Having said that, I don’t think it’s quite the bogeyman that Smith and McConkie stated.  Apostasy and Rebellion?  Come on.  Church members  “should neither play cards not have them in their homes.”  Do you find this outdated, or do you think having face cards in the home is apostasy?  So is Canasta, Rummy, Nertz and Solitaire grounds for stopping you from being a “ward teacher” (now known as a “home teacher”)?  If so, I think many men would confess to using face cards in order to be released from home teaching…..