The Dangers of Playing the Lottery


A lottery is a game of chance in which participants pay for a ticket, select a group of numbers, and win prizes based on the proportion of those numbers that match those randomly selected by machines. While making decisions and determining fates by casting lots has a long record in human history, lotteries to distribute material wealth are relatively recent and have become very popular. The Bible warns against gambling and discourages covetousness (see Proverbs 22:7), but many people play the lottery for money, even though the odds of winning are incredibly low.

Although state lotteries are marketed as a way for the public to “help their local schools, hospitals and other worthy causes,” they are actually a form of hidden tax on everyone who plays them. State governments typically set up a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery and begin operations with a small number of simple games. Then they rely on constant pressure from convenience stores (the usual vendors for lottery tickets) and suppliers of services like education (heavy contributions by these companies to state political campaigns are often reported) to expand the size and complexity of the lottery — all while maintaining the illusion that the lottery is not an additional source of revenue but rather an alternative to higher taxes.

When a player wins a large prize, he or she typically must share it with a lot of other winners, reducing the amount of the individual’s reward. This can make the lottery a poor choice for people who prefer to keep their winnings as long as possible or who are unable to afford to buy all of the available tickets with one check. However, a Romanian mathematician named Stefan Mandel has devised a method for increasing a person’s chances of winning by purchasing enough tickets to cover every combination. His technique involves pooling money from investors to purchase a large number of tickets, and he claims that his formula can help anyone win the jackpot at least 14 times in a row.

Another danger of playing the lottery is that it entices people to believe that money can solve all their problems. This is a lie from the devil, and it is biblically forbidden: “Do not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his animals or his donkeys” (Exodus 20:17). Instead of focusing on gaining wealth by hard work, God wants us to seek him for riches in heaven, where we will never face the emptiness of worldly possessions and have to worry about losing them or being taken advantage of by dishonest business practices (see Matthew 6:33). The only way to truly be wealthy is to earn it humbly from the Lord through obedience and faithful service (see Philippians 4:19). The lottery lures players into this trap with false promises that if they win the jackpot, their lives will be perfected. But pursuing wealth this way is not only statistically impossible, but it also focuses our attention on the temporary things of this life instead of pursuing the eternal riches of God’s kingdom (see Ecclesiastes 1:9).