Pop quiz: Who should be in charge of making decisions about your money? You or someone else? Maybe your neighbors? Perhaps the majority of voters? Maybe a group of duly elected legislators? If you conclude competent adults ought to make all decisions over their own money, we are off to a good start. Seriously, this is an easy one.

Gambling is simply wagering something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome hoping to win something else of value. Assuming competent adults are voluntarily wagering their own peacefully obtained money or other property with other competent adults, it is easy to see there is no violation of the 3L Legal Principle. After all, competent adults are entitled to live as they choose and be the iron-fisted dictators of their property. Therefore, they should decide how to use it. That said, finding no violation of the 3L Legal Principle merely results in a conclusion that the conduct ought to be legal.

Next question: Is the 3L Moral Principle violated? I can think of no reason competent adults gambling their own money violates any aspirational value. The 3LM would therefore take no official position against gambling.

However, the person genuinely committed to the 3LP remains free to publicly condemn the act of gambling nonetheless and work mightily to peacefully persuade others not to gamble. This conclusion is proper because people committed to the 3LP may personally decide something about gambling violates their personal higher moral or religious views. There is no conflict. We each hold higher moral views that may go far beyond the 3L Moral Principle. People should always remain free to attempt to persuade others to act differently. As a person entirely committed to the 3LP, I am not shy about trying to convince you to eat chocolate ice cream while also recognizing you are the final decision maker on all aspects of this decision. So long as we honor the rights of other competent adults to disregard our advice entirely, we do not violate the 3LP.

In my many years representing people charged with crimes, I have represented several people charged with felony gambling offenses. On each occasion, I have found myself defending a peaceful adult who, in some way, merely assisted another competent adult to illegally play poker, slot machines, or another form of mutually agreed upon entertainment. I am always embarrassed for our criminal justice system as we pretend we are dealing with a real criminal who has committed a serious crime. I listen to my client sometimes admit guilt to the “serious” crime of peacefully assisting other adults in having a good time with their own money. I always resist my urge to pause in the middle of the formal court proceeding and say, “Judge, do you realize how ridiculous and unjust of a proceeding you are presiding over right now?” I mostly bite my tongue. This utter legal foolishness often ruins precious lives.

Some people irresponsibly gamble money they cannot afford to lose. Others may become addicted to gambling and develop real problems as a result. I do not intend to minimize these significant problems. While this sometimes results in tragedy, and we should peacefully work to help others avoid these consequences, forcefully or coercively acting on peaceful people is never a just or practical solution. People of good character should stand ready to display voluntary kindness to those genuinely in need, even as a result of their own poor life choices.

Although we should peacefully strive for the best world possible, we should realize utopia is not an option. One cost of freedom is that some people will abuse their freedom in ways that work against their own best interests. People sometimes make bad decisions. That notwithstanding, people do not somehow acquire a right to take control of another competent adult’s money and make decisions over it. Competent adults, as owners of their money, make those decisions for themselves, even if they opt to make bad decisions.

None of this justifies trespassing upon or punishing people who have not violated the rights of others. Further, by living the aspirational values derived from the 3L Moral Principle, we can assist those suffering from poor choices. As with other issues, concluding an activity ought to be legal is not akin to sending an encouraging message to engage in the activity. The mere legality of an act should never be viewed as encouragement to engage in the conduct. Achieving a civilized society requires that adults know the difference between the two critically different concepts.