The Dangers of Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay a sum to have a chance of winning a prize. Prizes can be cash, property, or services. Some governments prohibit gambling, while others endorse it or regulate it. A lottery is different from a game of skill because the outcome of the game depends largely on chance. This article explores the history and culture of lottery, as well as some of its implications for society.

During the seventeenth century, European states began to adopt state-sponsored lotteries. These lotteries raised money for town fortifications and charitable causes. They were popular among the common people, and their popularity grew as states sought to solve fiscal crises without enraging their anti-tax electorate. Lotteries were advertised with the phrase “the chance of getting rich,” which tapped into the popular myth that wealth could be gained through hard work and luck.

People who win the lottery are likely to spend more than they can afford. Often, they do not know what to do with the money they have won, and many find themselves worse off than before. In addition, the habit of playing lotteries can lead to compulsive gambling and other addictive behaviors.

The term “lottery” derives from the Latin verb “lote,” meaning to divide or distribute. The biblical Old Testament instructed Moses to take a census of Israel and distribute land by lot, and Roman emperors used lotteries to give away slaves and goods. In modern times, lottery-like arrangements are used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away through a random process, and the selection of jurors. The legal definition of a lottery, however, includes only those arrangements in which payment of some sort is required to participate.

Despite the fact that the chances of winning are slim—it is more likely to be struck by lightning or become a billionaire than to win the Mega Millions jackpot—people continue to play lotteries. The reason is not merely an inextricable human impulse to gamble but, rather, the allure of the impossible: The chance that a few numbers will bring them instant riches, thereby enabling them to buy a better life for themselves and their families.

This desire for wealth is dangerous because it distracts us from God’s call to seek our reward in heaven, where there will be lasting riches (Matthew 6:33). It also encourages covetousness and the view that money is the answer to all our problems—which it cannot be, as Proverbs 22:7 reminds us: Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands can bring wealth. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, when lottery play became a national obsession, income inequality widened, job security was eroded, health-care costs increased, and our long-held national promise that education and hard work would enable children to be better off than their parents grew increasingly untrue. Consequently, the dream of winning the lottery became an ever-increasing part of the American psyche. In some cases, it has led to a lifetime of debt and family destruction.