Stop Supporting the Lottery

a contest in which numbered tickets are sold and the winners determined by chance, typically for prizes of money or goods. Lotteries are common in modern societies, with governments and private companies sponsoring them to raise funds for public and charitable purposes. In addition, many people play the lottery for entertainment. A variant on the game involves matching symbols on scratch-off tickets for a prize, usually less valuable than those in the main lottery. The earliest known lotteries were keno slips from the Chinese Han dynasty (205 BC–187 AD). Federal statutes prohibit the use of the mails to promote or operate lotteries, and lottery games are prohibited by law in some countries.

In the United States, for example, state lotteries are regulated by the Federal Government. The first official lotteries were conducted in the early colonies, and George Washington sponsored one to fund road construction in Virginia in 1768. Today, state lotteries are a major source of revenue and have a large influence on the public’s perception of government spending.

State lotteries are promoted as an alternative to raising taxes, but the percentage of overall state revenue that they provide is small. They also contribute to gambling addiction and other problems. Furthermore, they encourage people to covet money and the things that it can buy. This violates the biblical prohibition against covetousness (Exodus 20:17).

The fact that most lottery participants lose money is not a reason to stop supporting them, but it should prompt us to look more carefully at how they are managed and marketed. For example, when a lottery is advertised on billboards next to the interstate, it implicitly suggests that playing the lottery is a way to solve a person’s financial problems. Moreover, the advertisements often emphasize the size of the jackpot and exaggerate the odds of winning. This is misleading, and it should be corrected.

People who play the lottery do so for a variety of reasons, including the enjoyment of gambling, the desire to improve their lives, and the hope of becoming rich. These motives are understandable, but they are not sufficient to justify a state’s promotion of the lottery. State officials should focus more attention on the benefits that are likely to result from reduced taxes, and they should avoid promoting a game that encourages gamblers to spend more than they can afford to win.

The state’s promotional messages about the lottery are often contradictory and inconsistent. While they stress the positive social impact of lottery revenues, they also promote an irrational fear of losing money and a false belief that gambling is a meritocracy. As a result, they have an unintended consequence: They push poor people into gambling, where their chances of winning are very low and the consequences can be devastating. If they win, they may find themselves bankrupt in a few years or worse, as the vast majority of lottery winners do. This is an unacceptable trade-off, and it is time for states to reconsider the role of the lottery in their budgets.