What’s wrong with buying a lottery ticket?

By Hal Lane
Oct 9, 2007

Many Christians who would never go to Las Vegas and spend time in a casino see no harm in buying a lottery ticket. They see the lottery as a benign form of gambling that benefits a good cause like education. After all, there is no verse in the Bible that says “You shall not gamble.” So what does the Bible say about the purchase of lottery tickets?

First, gambling shows a lack of faith in God’s provision for our needs. Honest labor is the means that God has ordained for us to provide for our needs and the needs of others (Exod. 20:8). In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus encouraged His disciples not to worry about the future. He promised that the heavenly Father would take care of them as He took care of the birds and the flowers. Gamblers believe in luck and hope to receive reward for no labor.

Second, gambling shows a disregard for the laws of God. The clear motivation of gambling is greed, or covetousness, which the tenth commandment forbids. Ephesians 5:5 says that no covetous person has an inheritance in the kingdom of God, and Colossians 3:5 says that covetousness is idolatry.

Many justify their purchase of lottery tickets because some of the money will be used for education. People, however, do not buy lottery tickets because of education. They buy lottery tickets hoping to get instant wealth. It is greed, not charity, that motivates gamblers. If supporting education was the main purpose, then the lottery would not be necessary. People would support education without the incentive of greed. (Incidentally, the New York Times has reported that North Carolina is the latest state to discover that the lottery is “no quick fix for its cash-starved public schools.”)

Third, gambling shows a lack of love for others. The few who win lottery payoffs do not care where the money came from or who was hurt in the process. In their book, Selling Hope: State Lotteries in America (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1989), authors Clotfelter and Cook state that 10 percent of lottery players account for 50 percent of lottery purchases and the top 20 percent account for 65 percent of purchases. Many of these players are gambling addicts who are robbing their families of needed resources. How can a Christian feel good about benefiting from the misery of others?

Fourth, gambling will undermine the ethics and morals of young people. Youth learn from the examples of their parents and other adults. Parents who gamble endorse gambling and set an example for their children to follow. Surveys show that an alarming percentage of adolescents play the lottery despite its illegality (32% Louisiana, 34% Texas, 35% Connecticut1). An experiment with a 16-year-old girl in Illinois showed that she was able to purchase lottery tickets in 49 out of 50 attempts from lottery retailers in that state2.

Even for those who do not illegally buy lottery tickets, the example will be there to encourage young people to believe that gambling is acceptable. Parents who buy lottery tickets will have no moral authority to tell their children not to gamble.

Legalized gambling teaches the following principles:

  1. Gambling is good. The state will give its seal of approval to a practice that has led many into addictive and destructive lifestyles. They will be sanctioning a false hope of instant wealth that has resulted in abandoned children, divorce, financial ruin, theft and suicide. They will lose the moral authority to oppose other forms of gambling that will follow.
  2. Greed is good. The state will seek to entice players to take a chance on instant wealth. Instead of teaching the biblical principle that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, it will teach that the lack of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
  3. It is good to educate the wealthy with money from the poor. Despite skewed statistics that attempt to say that lottery tickets are bought by a cross section of the economic spectrum, the truth is that the poor and desperate buy disproportionately more lottery tickets. “Those making less than $10,000 per year spend more than any other income group, averaging $597 per year. Furthermore, the top 5 percent of lottery players account for over 50 percent of lottery sales, spending on average $3,870 per year3.”
  4. The end justifies the means. It is not how we raise money but how we use the money that determines the morality of the means. If citizens are OK with using revenue generated from lottery ticket sales, will state legislators next consider legalizing pornography and prostitution and earmarking those funds for students’ benefits?

Lotteries are thinly veiled cloaks for greed and selfishness. Christians can stand out as stars in a dark culture by refusing to participate in the many forms of gambling, including the lottery. “Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

1 CitizenLink, Lotteries in the United States: A Brief Overview, p. 6.

2 Thomas E. Radecki, “The Sale of Lottery Tickets to Minors in Illinois,” Journal of Gambling Studies, vol. 10, no. 3, 1994, p. 213.

3 Gambling Backlash: Time for a Moratorium on Casino and Lottery Expansion, Timothy A. Kelly, Family Research Council.

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1 On Oct 9, 2007, at 8:35pm, Ernest Lee wrote:

Interesting article. Gambling is yet another area where men have failed and fallen to the flesh.

However, I’m afraid that we must be cautious not to error with legalism either.

Otherwise you are going to stone a million old folks who play bingo…and probably get hit with a walker. :)

And who here doesn’t have a 401K or savings account???

Don’t think that you aren’t guilty of gambling too. No matter how low the risk and/or the interest is, it is still the exact same concept.  Banks go under and stock markets crash all the time.

So let’s not condemn those who don’t choice to bury their money in the back yard…I’m pretty sure even Jesus scolded the fellow who did that in one of his parables…

It’s the LOVE of money that is at the root of all this.  Excessive ANYTHING is going to get you into trouble.  How ‘bout Super-Sizing that fry for me?  Hehehe.

2 On Oct 9, 2007, at 10:40pm, Ronnie Lee wrote:

I agree heartedly with this article, well articulated.  A related question I have deals with the fact that some people who are opposed to state lotteries will allow their college-bound children to benefit.  What about Christians who accept scholarships built from monies the state collects from lotteries?  What about Christian colleges that accept these scholarships?  What is the Christian view of such practice?

3 On Oct 9, 2007, at 10:44pm, Matt Hawkins wrote:

RE: Ernest’s post 1

Comparing legitimate investments (like 401Ks) to gambling of any kind is wholly inaccurate (though popular). To equate the two does a tremendous disservice to this debate.

4 On Oct 9, 2007, at 11:41pm, James McClintock wrote:

How about a good follow-up article that addresses objections by those who claim gambling is comparable to investing (ethical comparison not potential for success).

5 On Oct 10, 2007, at 12:50am, Roney wrote:

To compare buying a lottery ticket and hoping to get rich instantly with investing in your 401K and watching it grow over years or decades, or a savings account that PAYS a fixed interest rate is ridiculous.

In your 401K you are probably INVESTED in (that is you OWN a part of a business) a ligitimate money making concern, that company can lose money or go out of business, but it doesn’t have to, and you have information about the company on which to base your investment decision.

But the biggest difference is that in the lottery MOST people have to LOSE for a very few to win, in an investment this doesn’t have to happen, everyone invested in a sound company can WIN (can profit from their investment), including the company itself, the government in taxes and workers at the company.  BIG, BIG difference between buying a lottery ticket and investing in stocks.

P.S. Remember Jesus’ story of and rewarding the people who wisely invested.

6 On Oct 10, 2007, at 3:40pm, Jeff wrote:

I have a friend who once a week fills her car with gas, buys a diet coke and 1 lottery ticket.  For her this is not gambling but rather a form of entertainment and for her, this is true. Unfortunately, the Lottery Commissions do not target people like her, they would go broke.  They target the poorest people, the ones with the biggest need and most to lose and this combination leads to taking the biggest risk and losing the most. And this is most horrific part of the lottery.
The state government, which God ordained to protect its citizens, has put itself in the position of deceiving its most vulnerable and needy citizens.
I will bet a friend a coke on the outcome of football game, and that is gambling, but I won’t buy a lottery ticket when I get a diet coke,even as entertainment and fun, because of who it harms and my commitment to be my brothers keeper whenever possible.

7 On Oct 10, 2007, at 7:36pm, Nathan Falco wrote:

I just have some concerns toward the article and the responses (I am so far neutral on this issue):

1) 1st paragraph: accepting any material gift and also any money gained through investments would be condemned on these statements.

2) 2nd par: any game/contest with material gain as reward would be then based on greed and would be sinful (including some children’s and youth group games).

3) 6th par: ethically speaking, this is no basis on which to form a moral judgement.

4) answer to post 2: if you believe that Christians should not participate in the lottery, then you should not accept a lottery-based scholarship; however you do not have to assume responsibility for your school accepting them for other students.

5) answer to posts 3 & 5: investing IS akin to gambling; it is just a refined and more long-term form: look at the examples of Wal-Mart vs. Enron and you tell me whether investing can have the same positive and devastating effects noted in the article for gambling.

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