Is the Lottery a Wise Use of Public Money?

The lottery is an arrangement in which prizes are allocated through a process that relies entirely on chance. Some examples include a lottery for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Other, more common, financial lotteries dish out cash prizes to paying participants.

Lottery traces back centuries, with records of casting lots for land and slaves in ancient Israel and Rome. In the 1500s, towns in the Low Countries used lotteries to raise money for town repairs and for poor relief.

Initially, state lotteries were little more than traditional raffles: the public purchased tickets for a drawing that would take place at some future date. But after the 1970s, lotteries introduced instant games, such as scratch-off tickets, that were much more like traditional gambling and could be played on a daily basis. These games have boosted revenue and prompted concerns that they exacerbate alleged negative impacts of the lottery, such as targeting poorer individuals and presenting problem gamblers with more addictive games.

While the lottery is a popular form of entertainment and can help people increase their wealth, God wants us to earn our money honestly through diligent work. Playing the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme is statistically futile and focuses our attention on the temporary riches of this world rather than the eternal treasures of heaven (Proverbs 23:5). As a form of gambling, lottery is an unwise use of public funds.