The Problems of the Lottery

The lottery is a gambling game whereby people purchase tickets for a drawing and win prizes if their ticket numbers match those selected randomly by machines. While the lottery has broad public appeal, it also attracts a specific constituency including convenience store operators (lottery merchandise is commonly sold in these stores); suppliers of equipment and services to lotteries; teachers in states where revenue from the games is earmarked for education; and state legislators who become dependent on the revenues and develop a cozy relationship with the promoters.

The practice of lotteries has a long history and dates back to ancient times. The Old Testament tells Moses to divide the land by lot and Roman emperors gave away property, slaves and even their wives and children via lottery drawings during Saturnalian feasts. Lotteries in the modern sense of the word were introduced in England and America during the 1600s and by the early 1800s were commonplace, raising money for town fortifications, aiding the poor and public buildings such as Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Despite this long history, lotteries raise a host of issues that are problematic for society. One is that they give people false hope. Many play the lottery believing that their life’s problems will be solved if they can just hit the jackpot. They buy into the lies that are fed them by lottery marketers, which include the claim that there are “lucky” numbers, lucky stores and times to purchase tickets. Lotteries also encourage covetousness, which God forbids (Exodus 20:17).