Lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it and regulate its use. Some even run state-sponsored lotteries. This practice is not new; it dates back centuries and was practiced in many cultures, including the Ancient Greeks and the Romans.
People spend billions each year on lottery tickets. Some see it as a fun way to pass time, while others believe they are investing in their future. The truth is that most people never win. In fact, the odds of winning a jackpot are less than one in a million. Despite the odds, lotteries are still popular in America, where more than half of the states have them.
The word “lottery” is related to the Latin phrase for a drawing of lots, which is used to allocate property or other assets. The term was also applied to a variety of government activities, such as military conscription and commercial promotions in which prizes were given away by chance.
In the Low Countries in the 15th century, public lotteries offered a chance to win cash prizes and town fortifications, according to records. Later, private lotteries became popular. The Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery to raise funds for the American Revolution, but that effort failed, and private lotteries continued to flourish. These were sometimes tangled up with the slave trade. George Washington managed a Virginia lottery that included human beings as prizes, and Denmark Vesey won a South Carolina lotto and went on to foment slave rebellions.
Modern lotteries are a major source of revenue for state governments, accounting for about a third of all gambling revenue in the United States. But there is a problem: Lottery revenues are volatile and state budgets may not be prepared for the sudden windfalls. That’s why some states are considering reducing or eliminating their lotteries altogether.
In this week’s issue of the Weekly Standard, we explore the reasons for these concerns and offer some alternatives to state lotteries.
For example, we can’t ignore the fact that the wealthy tend to buy fewer tickets than poor people do, so they are far less likely to be affected by big jackpots. But more importantly, the lottery encourages people to rely on chance to get rich. This is a dangerous message, because God wants us to work hard and earn our wealth honestly. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 23:4).
Moreover, the state’s promotion of lotteries sends the message that playing them is a civic duty. But that’s a dubious claim, considering the small percentage of overall state revenue that lotteries generate. There are other ways to fund state services, and state legislatures should weigh these alternatives before promoting a vice.