The Lottery and Covetousness

The lottery is a game of chance in which participants pay a small price to have a chance at winning a large sum of money. It’s a form of gambling and is not legal everywhere. It is a major source of state and federal revenue, though many critics argue that it is addictive and detrimental to society.

In some ways, the lottery is a classic example of “covetousness.” The Bible forbids coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbors” (Exodus 20:17). Yet millions of people purchase lottery tickets every week, spending billions of dollars annually on their chances at winning the grand prize.

Lottery advertising often promotes the idea that money is the answer to life’s problems. This is a lie that plays into the ancient sin of covetousness. The truth is that money is a very poor substitute for the satisfaction that comes from loving and serving others, which is the chief value of human life.

Although the first documented lottery took place in the Low Countries in the 15th century, it is likely that people have been drawing lots for centuries. The word lottery is believed to be derived from Middle Dutch loterie, meaning “action of drawing lots,” which itself is thought to be a calque on the Latin loteria, which means “fate.”

When a state government adopts a lottery, its advocates tout it as an excellent way for citizens to raise money for public works projects and social welfare programs without having to increase taxes. But once a lottery is in place, political officials quickly become dependent on its “painless” revenues and feel pressured to increase them.

As a result, the size of lottery prizes has increased dramatically over the years. Super-sized jackpots drive lottery ticket sales, but they are also a bad way to manage a public resource. Large prizes have a number of negative effects, including depriving the winners of their right to decide how they want to use their money.

A lottery’s reliance on chance also makes it susceptible to manipulation. In the past, some lottery vendors have promoted games that allow players to select their own numbers and thereby give themselves better odds of winning, but researchers have repeatedly found that this is not true. In fact, in one study conducted by Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues, lottery participants who selected their own numbers had a worse chance of winning than those who let fate select their numbers. In other words, people who select their own numbers are not more likely to win, and they are not getting a good deal for their money.