Is the Lotto a Good Bet?

News spread fast that a single lotto ticket “hit the Mega Millions” jackpot to the tune of 1 billion dollars on Saturday, January 23rd.  To make it more poignant for those of us here in southeastern Michigan, the winning ticket was purchased at the Kroger in Novi. The internet and news outlets were flooded with this development.  Rhetorical questions like, “Can you imagine waking up one morning and being a billionaire?” Well, actually, the person holding the winning ticket will not be a billionaire in as much as the government will take back about 45% of that jackpot if the winner decides to take a lump sum settlement.  If not, the prize will be doled out over 30 years. Almost everyone takes the lump sum.

When the “lotto” was run “underground” by racketeers (and called “the numbers racket”) at least the gangsters paid out the full amount to winning numbers holders. But now that government has taken over “the numbers racket”, they are allowed to take back a huge percentage in “taxes”.  Nice racket to be in, eh?

So, what about the lottery for Christians?  That is a question I have been asked many times down through the years and again recently in light of current events.  I thought this might be an appropriate time to say something about it. There are at least three considerations to evaluate in determining the legitimacy of “lotto” participation for a believer:

1. Practical considerations.

Practically speaking, the vast majority of people who pump money into the lottery will never see a return on their purchase of tickets. While some do have winning tickets and realize money from it (albeit, again, taxable), those are minuscule compared to the millions who buy tickets. That is obvious in the fact that a jackpot can grow to millions (and in this case, a billion dollars), and the state (or lottery consortium of states) can still realize millions of dollars in “profit”.  Like going to Casino’s to gamble, it is a fool’s errand, practically speaking. The lure is that that one in 303 million chance (odds for hitting this current lottery) will come true for us.  The “house” (in this case the state) always wins. You can’t beat the house.  Oh sure, a few do… but therein is the lure. The vast majority never will.

2. Biblical justice considerations.

Study after study have shown that the poor/less wealthy of our society bear the greatest burden of the “resources” that feed the lottery machine. Sociologists call this a disproportional tax upon the poor.  That is to say, that even though the poor have less resources to actually buy a lottery ticket, they disproportionally feed the machine hoping to free themselves from their poverty or minimal wealth. People who are already in a good financial situation are less likely to cast their hopes upon a “one in 303 million” shot to become wealthy. It is often the desperation of the poor upon which the lottery feeds.

Biblical justice (unlike the social justice movement of our day) is designed not to enrich the poor to a “mean level” of economic status, but to make sure that the poor are not disadvantaged by government or those in power by creating laws or conditions that disenfranchise and take advantage of the poor.  The poor are not to be treated with more favor than others, and those who are in power and position are not to be treated with more favor than the poor (Lev. 19:15). This lotto policy has been shown to be to the detriment of the poor far more than the rich. The lotto “takes advantage” of financially desperate people in a disproportionate way. That should be a concern to all who take biblical justice seriously.

3. Theological considerations.

                A. The biblical prescription for wealth attainment is work and investment.

Wealth without work is the dream of the lotto; that you can become wealthy by chance is the lure. It is as if easy, work free wealth is one of the highest virtues to attain. But the Bible champions industry, work ethic, and investment as the means of attaining wealth, not gambling what wealth you have attained in a desire to gain unearned wealth. The Bible speaks against sloth and champions industry (Pr. 6:6-11; Pr. 21:25; 12:24; Ps. 128:1-2; et al).

                B. Playing the lotto promises a get rich quick scheme, again without industry, that reveals the susceptibility if not the reality of a love of money ethic (I Tim. 6:10, 17-19)

                C. Gambling, which is what the lotto is, is as misuse of “chance” in the biblical scheme of things.

In reality, the casting of the lot, the rolling of the dice, and employment of the Urim and the Thummim in the OT, were God’s sovereign means of communicating his will to his people. What we now call chance, the Bible employed as a means of determining God’s will. Even in the NT the lot was cast to determine God’s will in choosing someone to replace Judas among the Apostles (Acts 1:21-26). Pr. 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” We have taken something that in the Bible was used as the means of determining God’s sovereign will (before God’s revelation was complete) and made it into a game of chance in which we hope to enrich ourselves without working and have corrupted the historical Biblical usage of “the lot” and divorced it from God’s sovereign will.

Well, this is simply a primer on this issue. Entire books and countless articles have been written about it. What I hope is that believers will not simply and blindly follow the culture without examining this issue from a biblical perspective.


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