Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

5 May 2014

Three Reasons Why the Lottery is a Bad Bet

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Mega MillionsI 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).

8 Responses

  1. Mark Snoeberger

    Prov. 28:20, 22: A faithful man will have many blessings,
    but one in a hurry to get rich will not go unpunished.

       A greedy man is in a hurry for wealth;
    he doesn’t know that poverty will come to him.

  2. Sam Hendrickson

    Hi Pearson,
    great post! I am genuinely curious, where would you go argument-wise if someone said, “I simply play for amusement/entertainment, I do not think I am wrongly desiring gain?” I have some answers I have given, but if you will opine…

  3. John Aloisi


    First, I’m inclined not to believe the person who says they simply play for entertainment, not because they wrongly desire gain. If it were not for the chance to get rich quick, the lottery ticket wouldn’t hold any entertainment value. So in my opinion that person is either self-deceived or is lying.

    Second, even if someone somehow could purchase lottery tickets apart from greed, my second and third reasons above still hold true. That person would be essentially choosing to light dollar bills (or perhaps $20 bills) on fire. In other words, they would be exercising poor stewardship. They would be acting foolishly. And regardless of the purchaser’s motives, any form of participation in the lottery encourages the government to keep preying on its citizens. I believe that encouraging the government to do so is inconsistent with loving one’s neighbor.

  4. Pearson Johnson

    Sam, Any time I can get credit for writing John’s posts, I am all for it. 🙂 I agree with John, in that the person is self-deceived or poorly justifying his use of money. The same argument is often used for participation in casino gaming, poker, golf-wagers, office pools, etc. “It is my money so if I choose to use it for this “fun for me” deal, while you choose to spend it on golf, or a baseball game, or cable tv, that is my choice.” The best answer is, as is mentioned, that we are all stewards of the limited funds God has given us and will be held to account for how we spend them in any way. The other arguments– greed, waste, addictiveness, and (gulp) the “associations” of casinos, lotteries, etc with sinful industry are plenty to argue against it as a wisdom choice in my opinion, and sometimes we have to graciously state the case and entrust it to the conscience and Spirit in the believer.

    It is grievous, as John says, that the government meant to protect the weak from harm, has turned to prey upon the weak and aged for revenue.

  5. Brian Mallary

    1. If lotto players were really interested in the revenue that public education receives from it, that one should simply sit down and write a check to the school system.

    2. Playing the lottery defies God’s promise to supply your needs.

  6. Lisa

    I’ve worked retail and you wouldn’t believe how much money people spend on lottery and scratchers.

    I seen people fork out anywhere from $75 to $100 on scratcher tickets in lotto, and they’d be lucky if they got $20 back.
    and don’t even get me started on Powerball.
    a friend of mine went to five or six different retail establishments in different towns within 5 milesto get Powerball tickets on the day of the drawing. I don’t know exactly how much the total she spent, but I know it was more than $60. She did not win any of the Powerball. Just think, if she didn’t spend that money on Powereball, she’d have the money for her rainy day fund which can add up quicker by stashing loose change in it and have $50.00 or more in less time and with less work than buying paper tickets to shall we say “Get rich quick.”
    May the lord guide you all in proper money management. He does with me.

  7. Dear John,

    I get your point and I partially agree with it. Though, I think you forget one very important aspect; dreams. Even by only having maybe possibly eventually the chance to win a great amount of money, people will start thinking what they will do with it. Will they buy a new house, a new flat screen or will they give their newly won money to children suffering from poverty or to refugees? And why?
    I think this aspect of playing the lottery will change peoples’ lifes, even without winning an amount of money. What they do win is dreams and new insights in what they really want and what they find important.
    But, of course, your arguments are certainly convincing as well. Thanks a lot!

    All the best,