Categories: Gambling

The Lottery


A gambling game in which a large number of tickets are sold and a drawing is held for certain prizes. Often the prize is cash, although other prizes can be offered as well, such as automobiles, land, or appliances. Lottery games are often popular for raising money for a charitable cause, such as a public works project. A lottery differs from other forms of gambling in that participants do not gamble against each other, but rather against the state, which is obligated to keep its promises of paying out winning tickets.

Throughout history, lottery games have been used to distribute property, labor, and other valuables. The most well known form of this arrangement is a government-run lottery in which tickets are sold for the chance to win a cash prize. State governments usually legislate a monopoly for themselves, set up a state agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of the profits), and begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games. As the demand for tickets increases, however, the lottery progressively expands its size and complexity.

While the lottery has a broad appeal, it is also subject to a variety of problems and criticisms. Moral arguments against it typically focus on covetousness, since people play the lottery with the hope that they will get rich, which is contrary to God’s prohibitions against coveting one’s neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his ox or donkey, or any other possession (Exodus 20:17; 1 Timothy 6:10).

Another major argument against the lottery is that it violates the idea of voluntary taxation by enlisting the poor and working class to pay for its operation. The fact that the lottery is a regressive tax, in which wealthier taxpayers pay a greater percentage of the total cost than do lower-income taxpayers, reinforces this concern.

Lottery critics also point out that while the profits from lottery play are substantial, the number of winners is small, and most people who play do not become wealthy. In addition, lottery play is correlated with lower educational achievement and higher crime, including embezzlement and other forms of fraud.

The debate over the lottery centers on whether it is an appropriate function for government to undertake. The answer to this question hinges on the extent to which lottery revenues are a substitute for more equitable revenue sources, such as taxes. In addition, there are a range of policy questions that arise when a state promotes gambling and aims to maximize its revenues. These include the problem of compulsive gambling, and the regressive nature of the lottery’s impact on poorer people. While the existence of such issues does not necessarily invalidate the concept of a lottery, they do make it more controversial and deserve to be considered carefully before a decision to establish one is made. Despite these concerns, lottery advocates argue that the advantages of state-run lotteries outweigh the risks.

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