Powerball: The Morning After



So? How did you do?

It looks like three people will be sharing the $1.6 BILLION Powerball prize from last night’s drawing. That’s a lot of dough.

People were snapping up tickets like crazy this past week. There was even a dedicated lottery line at my regular Circle K. My son was there Tuesday and watched a man plunk down a stack of twenty-dollar bills to buy $240 worth of tickets. Apparently, he lost. I’ll bet he would like that money back today.

I guess they don’t have the lottery in Utah, so people were driving to Wyoming to buy their tickets. No  – really – I’m not making this up.

Everyone seemed to be buying tickets. Everywhere I went, people would ask me if I had bought my ticket yet, and they always seemed to be disappointed n me when I told them, “Nope.”

BUT, what was odd, is that as the payout grew larger, and the hype grew louder, I must admit that I thought about it. Embarrassing? Yes. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man, but somehow, my brain started shutting down, and I actually considered buying a ticket. You know, just for fun.

Because, you know, $1.6 BILLION is a lot of dough. Yes, I know that $200 million is plenty, and the odds are much better if you play the lesser lotteries, but, as I said, brains start shutting down as greed rises.

If I had bought a ticket, I could have been real part of the discussions about what I would do if I won. I could flex my covet muscles that I try not to use. I could dream big!

But alas, I did not join the party. I’m the boring guy. I’m the dad at the party.

So this morning, after I checked to make sure if anyone I know is an instant multi-millionaire, I decided to dig in a little bit to make myself feel better about having NOT played. Because while you can’t win if you don’t play- but you also can’t lose if you don’t play.

Here’s a little info that might make it easier to not lose money next time:

• The Church is opposed to gambling in any form – including government sponsored lotteries.Here is the statement from LDS.org:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.

• In fact, if you win money gambling, then pay tithing on it, the Church will refuse it. That’s right – they would rather send it back than condone it.

• The prophets have been asking the saints not to gamble since Brigham Young denounced it – he even went as far as to tell the Relief Society that he would rather see homemade quilts “rot on the shelves,” rather than raffle them off.

• Playing the lottery is immoral.  Elder Dallin Oaks denounced all forms of gambling – specifically calling out lotteries – as morally wrong. (In addition to being economically dumb, and “politically unwise.”)  As Elder Oaks tends to do, he lays out a devastating case against the lottery in a talk given at BYU-I, Here is the link if you want to read the whole thing – if you didn’t buy a ticket this week, you will feel vindicated. “Gambling – Morally Wrong and Politically Unwise.

• Elder James E. Faust actually used the idea of purchasing just ONE lottery ticket in a discourse on addictive behaviors.

“The purchase of just one lottery ticket.” This is more subtle than other addictions. You may not think gambling is an addiction because it is not a substance taken into the body, but as someone recently wrote, “Those who gamble risk more than just money. Their lives and families are at stake too.” (Link)

• There was an article in Time magazine this week that basically tells how winning the Lottery can ruin your life. If is interesting to see what has happened to “winners.” There are hundreds of other places to find similar stories.  But it does makes sense: Since playing and winning the Lottery is immoral – why wouldn’t the after-effects be damaging?

• Not only have we been asked not to play, the First Presidency has asked us to active oppose lotteries. This is what they said in a letter to the church membership:

““We urge members of the Church to join with others with similar concerns in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of lotteries.” 

So, there you go. If you stood strong and didn’t buy a ticket, then you should be glad. If you did cave and buy a ticket, then I hope you enjoyed your “lemming moment.” A greedy, covetous, brainless lemming moment.

Just teasing. Kinda. Thankfully, my job is not to judge anyone in particular, but I am happy to point out when the ways of the word collide with the ways of the Lord in such a highly-publicized, socially accepted manner. “But I just bought a ticket for fun.” Yeah, whatever.

I know that buying a lottery ticket is a tiny thing, and I would like to think that it wouldn’t keep me out of heaven, but disregarding the counsel and warning of the prophets just might.

Elder Oaks quoted CS Lewis as Screwtape explained how Satan operates.

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. (The Lord) It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

You can’t win if you don’t play.     Wanna bet?


Here are some links to General Conference addresses that specifically talk about lotteries:

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Believe His Prophets.”

Spencer W. Kimball, “Why Call Me Lord, and Do Not the Things Which I Say?

Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Priesthood of God.”

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Gambling.”

James E. Faust, “It Can’t Happen to Me.”


  1. Thanks for this. I didn’t buy one because our leaders have asked us not too. I must admit though, I was tempted. No regret😀

  2. You’re right, there is no lottery in Utah. We have to drive to Idaho, Wyoming or Nevada to buy one. That makes it easy for a person not to buy one unless you want to drive to it, thus spending gas money along with the cost of the tickets. Temptation not as great! I will take my chances of getting hit by lightning.

  3. Love how you find the learning and testing moments of which our time on Earth consist. If you don’t knock it off, you’ll graduate early.

    I would like to think I was morally clean and resisted temptation, but it’s more likely that my inner 12-year old thinks a Powerball is Luke Cage crossed with a Ditko character.

  4. Decades ago, before I joined the Church, I went with my then-husband to Nevada for his job interview. I took one nickel, told him, I’ll just lose this nickel and then I’m done. I did. I was. And a couple of years later, after I had joined the Church, I was ever so grateful for a merciful Heaven, in that I hadn’t won. I already have plenty of character faults to refine through the Atonement. Any time the temptation to gamble crops up, I just remind myself that next time I couldn’t count on being lucky enough to lose my money.

  5. I know it’s not the most charitable of thoughts, but on those rare occasions like this last week where I consider buying a lotto ticket I remind myself that there is a reason my Econ professor called it “a tax on stupidity.” That is always enough to sober my thoughts and convince me not to do it.

    Which is really sad, because any one of the quotes above should have convinced me before that point.

    • Agreed. I had a fleeting thought about buying one too, then I remembered what I always tell myself, “Gambling is a tax on stupid people.”

  6. I remember listening to a This American Life episode on unhappy lottery winners a few years back. I think the main point was people are unprepared for the lump sum and blow it surprisingly quickly when new “friends” and “family” come knocking. And the annuity doesn’t actually give you that much more after tax per month, if you pick that. So, your friends and family start treating you like a millionaire, but you’re only getting the equivalent of a second job’s salary. (Presumably a very nice second job with a lottery like this one.)


    “He’s talked with thousands of lottery winners, and the vast majority, he says, wish they’d never won.”

    Another interesting article — http://magazine.byu.edu/article/gambling-what-are-the-odds/
    “Many members of the LDS Church may not be so naïve as to believe in “luck,” per se. But they harbor a similar belief that is just as dangerous for their finances; namely, they believe that God wants to help them become rich, and quickly. Maybe that is because they intend to use the money for good, or even just because they are trying to keep the commandments and believe that He wants to reward them with happiness (or rather money). This is a big mistake.”

  7. You were right about Elder Oaks talk. It is powerful and eye opening. I definitely feel vindicated that I did not participate in something so awful. This also spills over into many other areas of life regarding our attitude and beliefs. Apparently I have a lot to repent of. Thank you. I was looking to make that repentance list longer today.

  8. Any thoughts on being given a ticket? At Christmas, a coworker gave out lotto tickets and my husband got one. The coupon machine at the grocery store also spit out a free lottery ticket coupon the same week as well (maybe that’s why the coworker was giving away tickets for Christmas gifts). We didn’t get to pick the numbers, but we sure did check to see if they won. Neither of us are tempted to play the lottery (LOVE and agree with the econ prof’s phrase in the comments above- “a tax on stupidity”) and it would’ve been a little awkward to explain….but it’s money we didn’t gamble for. We didn’t really indulge in the “what would we do with it if we won” but we both wondered if we should even take it.

    • Same as being given a bottle of wine or humidor of cigars for a gift. I have recieved both, the cigars being worth a couple hundred bucks. I took them into the garage and made my kids watch me break them into pieces over the trash can. They asked why I didn’t give them to somebody else or sell them on eBay. Then they thought for a second and already knew the answer. Of course, I thanked the gift giver, but still destroyed he gift.

  9. I had an office next door to a liquor store that sold crazy amounts of lottery tickets. Once when the PowerBall was extremely high, I asked my sister to remind me again why we don’t buy lottery tix. She said, “It’s anti-tithing.” That cured me.

  10. My heart is breaking today, thinking about all the families affected by this, especially ones with children. I know first hand the devastation caused by a parent spending whole paychecks and more on lottery tickets. Talk about evil in disguise!

  11. Our work always has someone gather money and drive up to Wyoming to buy tickets.
    I never participate cause 1- I know I won’t get the money back and 2- I don’t like the person who usually goes to get the tickets.
    But thank you for bringing this up – a LOT of people forget that gambling, lotteries, and such- really ARE AGAINST the teachings of our Gospel. I think it’s forgotten about sometimes unfortunately

  12. When the lottery first became a thing, I decided to do my own experiment. I picked my six numbers and watched the news each Wednesday & Saturday to hear if I’d ‘won.’ I never had more than two numbers that matched the drawing. I never bought an actual ticket, and after a few years I lost interest in my experiment, but it did give me quite a feeling of satisfaction to think of all the money I hadn’t wasted on such a lousy investment.

    And yet, one of my very favorite parts in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ has always been:

    Perchik: “Money is the world’s curse.”
    Tevye: “May the Lord smite ME, and may I never recover!!”

    • Love it! Another of my favorite lines from that movie:
      “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”

  13. Even the thought is addicting! I never buy a ticket. But I’m a tad but jealous when somebody else gets the million dollars. If I had a lot of money to start with obtained legally and honestly, I wouldn’t have to be jealous. 🙂

  14. The Tax on the Mathematically Challenged. That’s what we’ve always called the lottery. But really, I’ve seen the negative effect of the lottery. I remember as a kid in elementary school in Idaho, the Lottery Commission would come to our school and give a big propaganda presentation about how the lottery benefitted our schools. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back I can’t believe they were allowed to do this! It was definitely a tricky way to raise up a new generation of gamblers. And with the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation just 20 minutes away and lottery at every gas station, I’m sure there were a lot of people sucked into that trap. Yet another check on my list of reasons I’m thankful for being raised in a home where we lived the Gospel. I am trying to do the same in my home.

  15. Luckily, I am part Scottish, and my DNA rebels at the thought of spending money with a chance of nothing to show for it. Besides, I have other things to do with my time (work, laundry, sleep).

  16. Thoroughly agree, but we also need to consider how we support others who make a living from gambling. I live in a town which revolves around ‘Clubs’. They make their money from pokies (poker machines), and in return you can obtain quite good cheap meals, and of course drinks (alcoholic). The social life of the town is almost exclusively carried out in these Clubs. As a consequence my husband and I are virtual social outcasts as we will not enter a Club for social reasons ever. (We have been in to try and locate a member or obtain information to help us in that.) Looking up some of the General Authorities descriptions of these establishments is enough to want you to avoid them at all costs. This is an area where we have to use our agency wisely, as there are other establishments e.g. newsagents, who sell lottery tickets as a side-line, and of course Woolworths and Coles who are heavily involved with gambling also – if we boycotted them here we would not be able to buy our groceries. What a confusing and maze-like world we live in. I guess we follow our leaders’ counsel and rely on the Holy Ghost to prompt us when the line gets a little fuzzy.

  17. When I was eight years old my brother offered to teach me to play poker. I immediately began to win. Soon I had a dollar and announced I would quit playing because I was going to pay tithing. My brother told me I couldn’t pay tithing on gambling winnings. That was a lesson I never forgot.

  18. I was hoping you would post something about the lottery, thank you for the references from the prophets. Glad we can move on to the subject of ANYTHING ELSE… I didn’t let my mind wonder into the “what if’s” and here’s why… All kidding aside…ask yourself this question: Would winning the lottery make me any happier than I am right now? Nope!

  19. We have 7 casinos within an hour of my house in Northern New Mexico. Our bishop explained the winnings from those places and powerball this way, “If you win, you can’t pay tithing on that money. So, you’d then not be considered a full tithe payer, and we’d have to talk about your temple recommend status.” Putting it that way actually got some response from people.

  20. I think Publisher’s Clearing House is just as bad. I’ve been bad about that one for years, because it isn’t actually called gambling, and I’m not buying tickets or whatever. But I’ve finally decided what to do. I’m going to start marking on the envelope “return to sender”. Maybe that’ll get me off their list and temptation. With the size of the prizes they offer, you know you’re paying way more than the product is worth.

  21. Did you break your arm patting yourself on the back? Should have just stopped after posting the Church’s official position. The rest is just self-aggrandizing.

    my 2 cents

  22. We even had people here in Australia buying into your big powerball lottery. Gambling is a social norm over here, as I think it might be in America.
    Though the occasional temptation niggles, I keep telling myself that you’ve got to be in it to lose it. I’m happy with my 100% return on every lottery I never enter.
    I’m guessing the church’s stand on gambling is in the church handbook. I know it is a problem among many of our members here who aren’t aware of the church view or don’t think it is considered a biggie and won’t affect their temple recommends. Good to read articles like this one. Unfortunately, like the ensign/liahona, I think you’re mainly preaching to the choir and those who more desperately need it don’t hear/read because they don’t avail themselves of it.

  23. I’m grateful for the extra. I’m one of those who needs to be hit over the head with doctrine explained day-to-day terms to which I can relate.

  24. Lotteries have never tempted me, but games of skill (at least a little skill) like poker have often struck me as very tempting — because I’m good at card games, and I flatter myself into believing that I’d do well (which I wouldn’t, of course, in the long run). I have long been so very grateful for the church’s admonition not to gamble, because that has removed the temptation far enough off that I’ve never gotten sucked in. And I would definitely get sucked in if I started.

    This is one of those cases where the blessings of the gospel are incredibly tangible for me, and I try to be appropriately grateful.

    As a side note: I used to love places like Chuck E Cheese as a kid, but their games have changed since then. Most of the games are kids versions of gambling now, at least at my local one. Every time we end up there with my kids, I think, “This is just preparation for an adulthood of gambling.” Sigh.

  25. Just curious, have you ever had your bishop ask you how you earned the money you are paying tithing on? I haven’t. Secondly, I have read the handbooks (both of them) cover to cover and never read anywhere that a bishop SHOULD refuse tithing from funds “earned” in nefarious ways. So I’m wondering what is your source for the statement that you can’t pay tithing on gambling winnings.

    • Good question. I am no longer a sitting bishop, so I don’t have access to Handbook 1, so I can’t refer you there. But, as I recall, we were instructed to not knowingly accept tithes from “ill-gotten gains,” which we were instructed included fraud and gambling. There are articles where the church returned donations they deemed “ill-gotten,” example: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/affinity-fraud-address-otterson.

      Hopefully having to return tithing is not a big issue!

  26. Great article. I never knew that buying lottery tickets were a no-no in the Church… I love the quote at the end. I also read this somewhat related quote (can’t remember who or where it’s from), but it went something like “It’s easier to keep the commandments 100% of the time than 99% of the time.” “Slipping” and failing to keep a commandment just once or twice can damage our progress of making it a habit to keep the commandments. Or worse.

    Thanks for the insight!

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