Problems With State Lottery Programs


A lottery is a game in which participants purchase tickets, randomly selected by machines or by drawing, for a chance to win prizes. It is the most popular form of gambling in the world, with players spending billions annually on the games. States promote lotteries as a way to raise revenue for education, social services, and other needs. In the immediate post-World War II period, when states first introduced lotteries, they saw them as a way to expand their social safety net without imposing onerous tax burdens on middle class and working families.

But there are many problems with state-sponsored lotteries that need to be addressed. First, they are at cross-purposes with the public interest in terms of promoting gambling and its effects on poor people and problem gamblers. Then, they are in conflict with religious teachings that forbid covetousness (e.g., Exodus 20:17; 1 Timothy 6:10).

Another problem is that lottery revenues are not going where they should, which is into the general fund of state government. Instead, they are largely benefiting wealthy communities and leaving the rest of the state budget underfunded. Finally, because lotteries are run as businesses focused on maximizing revenues, they tend to emphasize advertising that encourages target groups to spend money on the games. This is problematic in a society where the Bible warns against covetousness and where governments are supposed to seek the welfare of their citizens.