The lottery is one of the most popular forms of gambling in America. It raises billions in state revenue and is a fixture of American culture. But there are real costs involved that deserve some scrutiny.
The odds of winning the lottery are very slim, but that doesn’t stop people from trying their luck. In fact, most of the money spent on tickets comes from people in the 21st through 60th percentile of income distribution, who don’t have much discretionary spending to begin with. This regressive form of gambling makes the poor feel like they’re getting rich, even though they’re not.
It also distracts them from the truth that God wants us to earn our wealth honestly by working hard, as He says: “The hand of the diligent makes for wealth” (Proverbs 23:5). Using the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme is a waste of time and money and it emphasizes short-term riches rather than what God desires: “Those who work for it earn it” (Proverbs 10:4).
Purchasing a lottery ticket could make sense for an individual if the entertainment value or other non-monetary benefits are high enough. For example, a dinner entertainment that was common in ancient Rome was the apophoreta, where the host would have his guests draw for prizes after the meal to entertain their guests. The idea was that the entertainment value more than offsets the disutility of losing money on a ticket. This was a form of the lottery before it became popular in Europe.