Is the Lottery a Feel-Good Scam?


A lottery is a game of chance in which people pay for a ticket in order to win a prize, sometimes ranging into millions of dollars. These games are usually run by state or federal governments. Often, the prizes are used to finance public works projects or social welfare initiatives. While this is the main purpose of a lottery, there are other reasons why some people play.

A lot of people just plain like to gamble. There’s an inextricable human impulse that drives them to do so. That’s one of the reasons why there are so many billboards on the road promoting the latest jackpots.

Another reason is that the lottery can make people feel good about themselves for supporting a charitable cause. The fact is, though, that the money that lottery players give to charities is dwarfed by the amount of money that they spend on tickets. This is why I call it a “feel-good scam.”

Lotteries were introduced in Europe in the 17th century, with the Dutch Staatsloterij being the oldest running lottery (established in 1826). They became very popular and were often hailed as a painless form of taxation. Lotteries were also used to fund a number of public projects, including the building of the British Museum and the repair of bridges. Some even helped to finance the American Revolution, and the construction of Faneuil Hall in Boston.

However, despite their popularity and allure, lotteries are unjust and regressive. They are a form of gambling that is not only statistically futile, but also focuses people’s attention on the temporary riches of this world rather than the eternal treasures to be found in Christ. They also encourage covetousness, which God forbids: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his” (Exodus 20:17; see also Proverbs 23:5 and Ecclesiastes 5:10).

There are other, more serious problems with lotteries that can’t be ignored, particularly the fact that they lure people in with the promise of instant riches and then keep them hooked by keeping their jackpots constantly rising. They are like a drug: once you try it, you want more, and more, and more.

In my book, I talk to a woman who was addicted to the lottery for 15 years and spent thousands of dollars a year buying tickets. She told me that she started out playing on a lark with friends and then got caught up in the frenzied rush of winning and losing, and then she was stuck. She couldn’t break free of her addiction until she reframed how she thought about the lottery. In other words, she had to learn to see it as a game that required skill, effort, and strategy instead of just pure luck. This is an important lesson for everyone, no matter what you’re pursuing in life. It applies to a lottery as well as to any other form of gambling or risk-taking.