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Problems With the Lottery Industry


A lottery is a process by which people buy numbered tickets and prizes are awarded to those who have the lucky numbers. It is often a government-sponsored enterprise for raising money, though it may also be run by private organizations. The prize amounts can range from a few dollars to many millions of dollars. In addition to distributing prizes, lotteries may also be used for sports, education, charity and other purposes.

A number of things make lottery games appealing to people: the inextricable human impulse to gamble; the promise of instant riches in an age of inequality and limited social mobility; and a message that lotteries benefit the community. However, there are serious problems with the way lotteries are marketed and conducted. The first problem is that the lottery essentially teaches people to play for instant wealth instead of working for it. This is a dangerous message in an economy where wages are stagnant and unemployment is high. It can also undermine a sense of responsibility to work hard for one’s own success, which is important for morale and economic growth.

The second problem is that the lottery’s regressive nature undermines the value of hard work and personal sacrifice. While the lottery has a place in a society that values free enterprise and competition, it should not be viewed as a replacement for the hard work and risk-taking that are the foundation of the American dream.

Lottery commissions try to counter these criticisms by promoting two messages: that the lottery is fun and that playing it helps the community. This approach obscures the fact that the lottery is a form of gambling and makes it harder to understand how much the average person spends on tickets. It also distracts attention from the fact that, even if winning is not a realistic goal, playing the lottery can still take a significant portion of a family’s income.

In addition, the publicity generated by large jackpots drives sales, and it gives the lottery a good deal of free publicity on news websites and TV broadcasts. It is a shame that the lottery industry exploits people’s desires for quick and easy riches, when God wants us to acquire wealth through diligence, as illustrated by Proverbs 23:5: “The lazy man will not eat, but the hands of the diligent will be rich.” It is important that Christians resist the temptation to play the lottery and promote the biblical view of how we are to earn our money: “Lazy hands lead to poverty, but hands of the diligent bring wealth” (Proverbs 24:4). We should pray for the wisdom to help our fellow citizens avoid the pitfalls of gambling and the futility of the lottery. The Christian Science Monitor (January 23, 2012). All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. Contact [email protected] for reprint inquiries. The Christian Science Monitor is available for purchase in multiple formats. To subscribe, call 1-800-CSN-MONITOR or click here. 2011 by the Christian Science Publishing House.