I heard it on the radio again the other day—a slick sounding ad depicting happy sounding people talking about how much fun it is to win “the big one.” It was an ad for the Michigan Lottery, and it left one with the impression that most people who play the lottery actually win. When such ads come on, I typically turn the radio off. But from time to time I listen out of morbid curiosity not unlike that which causes people to watch crash videos on YouTube. Advertising executives are nothing if not brazen about taking something that is foolish and making it sound like great fun.
There are many reasons why people should not play the lottery and several more why it should be viewed as poor public policy. Here are three reasons why Christians should not spend their money on the lottery:
1. The lottery promotes greed while simultaneously discouraging a good work ethic.
If the ads are any indication, people play the lottery in hopes of winning large sums of money. Most of us have a tendency to want more things or to want nicer things than we currently own. The lottery suggests that one can easily get such things, not by working hard, but by buying little paper tickets which, truth be told, generally have the inherent value of confetti. The book of Proverbs suggests a better method: “whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov 13:11b).
I’ve heard people say something like, “I only play the lottery because it supports public education, and that’s a good cause.” If someone is really interested in supporting public education, I suspect there are more effective ways to do so. And say such a person were to beat the odds and actually win a lottery drawing, would that person then be taking money away from public education? Win or lose, the “helping fund a good cause” argument doesn’t make much sense. Which leads me to a second reason why playing the lottery is a bad idea.
2. The lottery promotes poor stewardship of personal finances.
Statistically, playing the lottery doesn’t make good financial sense. The lottery is designed to be a money-making tool for government coffers. In fact, state governments make quite a bit of money via various state and regional lotteries, and all of that money ultimately comes from people who had hoped to defy the laws of mathematics. The lottery can rightly be viewed as a tax on people who are bad at math. And unfortunately, oftentimes those who spend the most money on the lottery are those who can least afford to spend money on non-essentials. Which leads me to a final reason why the lottery is an all-around bad idea.
3. The lottery promotes a predatory relationship between the state and its citizens.
Lotteries are a means for state governments to trick citizens into giving them money in exchange for nothing by preying on human greed. It is a way for states to raise revenues without the unpopular process of raising tax rates. But if playing the lottery is poor stewardship of one’s resources, then government promotion of the lottery is de facto promotion of poor financial stewardship among its citizens. It is bad enough that governments typically provide large-scale examples of poor stewardship, but encouraging individual citizens to squander their resources seems to put government in the position of seeking the ill-being of those whom it should serve and protect. Christians should have no part in encouraging the government in such an endeavor.
Perhaps you’ve read this far in the post and are now thinking, “I’ve never considered buying a lottery ticket, so this really isn’t very relevant to me.” Let me challenge you with two additional thoughts. First, unfortunately people in your community and quite possibly your church have been harmed by the lottery. Granted, they have been willingly harmed, but that doesn’t lessen the impact. People with limited resources have been lured into wasting some of those resources on a government shell game. Just because the lotteries have been with us for decades doesn’t mean we should begin to view them as harmless. Second, the underlying reason why lotteries exist and are very profitable is lodged within all of our hearts to some degree or another. Innate selfishness causes us to want what we have not earned, and it causes us to want more than God has given us through the ordinary means of hard work and careful stewardship. Writing to believers, Paul warned about such an outlook when he wrote,
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:9–10).