The Drawbacks of Playing the Lottery

The drawing of lots to determine ownership or other rights is a practice documented in many ancient documents. Lotteries became common in Renaissance Europe to raise funds for churches and other public works projects. In the United States, state governments have exclusive monopoly rights to run lotteries, and the profits are used for state government programs.

People play the lottery because they believe there’s a chance that they can win a lot of money. But the odds are against them, and there’s no guarantee that they will win. In addition, there are other costs associated with playing the lottery—commissions for ticket retailers and overhead for the lottery system itself. State and federal taxes also take a bite out of winnings.

Another drawback is the temptation to covet the things that can be bought with the money won in a lottery. The Bible forbids covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, or his wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his” (Exodus 20:17). Lottery players can easily fall into this trap.

The United States has forty lotteries that raised $17.1 billion in fiscal year 2006. Most states allocate the majority of their lottery profits to education. But some also give away sports team draft picks and other prizes, and some have specialized lotteries that award tax deductions. The largest lottery jackpots generate the most publicity and stimulate ticket sales. In fact, they often lure people who don’t ordinarily gamble into the game, hoping that a big prize will solve their problems.