The Controversy of the Lottery


The lottery is a game where people buy tickets for a drawing that will award prizes if their numbers match those randomly selected by machines. It is an ancient idea, with some evidence of it being used in biblical times for decisions such as kingship and the fate of property.

Lotteries are also a very popular form of gambling, with Americans spending $80 billion each year on them. Yet despite the popularity and success of the lottery, it remains highly controversial. There are numerous issues that lottery critics raise, from its regressive impact on lower-income people to its promotion of compulsive gambling and its failure to address the problem.

While making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history (including several instances in the Bible), state-run lotteries are a recent innovation. They usually begin with a legislative act establishing the monopoly for the state; a government agency or public corporation is established to run the lottery; and a modest number of games is introduced. Over time, revenue growth typically accelerates and new games are added.

One of the messages that lottery marketers are relying on is that playing the lottery is a good thing because it raises money for state government. However, this message obfuscates the fact that the vast majority of lottery players do not play for money. They play because they believe that their life will be improved if they can win. This is a covetous mindset that violates the biblical commandment against coveting (Exodus 20:17; 1 Timothy 6:10).