The Popularity of the Lottery

Lotteries are popular because they offer the hope of winning a big prize with very small risk. Many Americans spend over $80 billion on lottery tickets each year. But the truth is that most of them will not win. Even if they do, the tax implications are so great that many will go bankrupt within a few years of their win. The good news is that you can minimize your chances of losing by studying the rules and strategies of a given lottery game.

Lottery is an ancient practice, and there is evidence of public lotteries in many civilizations throughout history. In the Old Testament, God instructed Moses to take a census of the people of Israel and divide the land by lot; and in Roman times, lottery games were an important part of Saturnalian feasts.

When a state establishes a lottery, it typically legislates a monopoly; sets up an agency or public corporation to run the lottery (rather than licensing a private firm for a percentage of profits); begins with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the lottery in size and complexity. It is a very effective political tool during times of economic stress, since the state legislature can claim that lottery proceeds are earmarked for a particular public purpose (such as education), thus gaining widespread public approval for the policy.

In addition to broad popular appeal, lotteries develop extensive specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (who typically serve as the main vendors for the lottery); ticket suppliers (heavy contributions by these organizations to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers (in states where lottery proceeds are earmarked for educational purposes); and state legislators (who quickly become accustomed to the extra revenue).

The popularity of the lottery in any given year does not appear to depend on the objective fiscal health of the state government; studies show that lotteries consistently gain wide support even when governments announce planned tax increases or cutbacks in public programs. Instead, the widespread appeal of lotteries appears to be primarily based on a psychologically powerful image: that of a chance for sudden riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility.

Aside from the obvious ethical problems associated with gambling, there is also the issue of spirituality. Playing the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme is statistically futile and distracts one from the pursuit of true wealth, which is earned through diligent work and is a gift from God. As the Bible says, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 24:4). Moreover, it distracts one from the reality that God does not want us to seek riches beyond this life. He wants us to pursue a life of integrity and honor Him with our time, talents, and resources. He calls on us to seek Him in prayer and worship, and to use our wealth wisely so that we can “abound in every good works” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). In short, we must not confuse the ephemeral riches of the lottery with the eternal treasures of heaven.