As a boy, I regularly visited Birmingham Drugs on Woodward Avenue to spend hard-earned lawn mowing money on comic books and a Coca Cola. I remember vividly when the orange Michigan Lottery kiosk was installed near the cash register. What caught my attention was the workers from Jax Car Wash down the block coming in and gambling ten and twenty dollar bills. This was the early 1970’s when minimum wage was about $2.00 an hour. I was young, and had little wisdom, but I knew then that taking a day’s wages and spending it on lottery tickets was a bad bet.
Last month lottery fever seemed to reach a new level across the nation. The Mega Millions jackpot soared to 1.6 billion dollars – that’s billion with “B.” An individual (notice I did not say “lucky individual”) from South Carolina apparently picked the right numbers and won. All good fun, right? And after all, for those who lost, the money goes for additional education funding. Who could object to that?
We all should. The lottery is an evil, dishonest scheme that preys on the poor and produces ruined lives. That may sound harsh and exaggerated, but it is the truth.
One lie the lottery tells is that it expands education funding. 27 states earmark lottery revenue for education. (Notice, please, the rest do not.) An average of $223.00 per American by is spent every year on lottery tickets. State education budgets should balloon. However, most states do not use lottery revenue for education expansion. They use it for the regular education budget. Money that would normally fund education is then used for other things. This is the old gambler’s trick called “bait and switch” or “the Hoboken hustle.” Lottery players are conned into believing their purchase increases school funding. All that is increased is the state’s total revenue. Schools and children are no better off.
Another lie the lottery promotes is that you could win. It is a lie because you could also be struck by lightning or be hospitalized due to a pogo stick accident – both of which are far more likely. The lottery tempts people with the false hope of easy wealth, so those who do not have wealth are most likely to buy tickets. Those who play the lottery are usually the same ones who can least afford it. Households with the lowest income spend on average $412.00 per year on the lottery – four times what the highest income households spend. That money could translate into a lot of groceries. The lottery has been rightly characterized as a tax on the poor and on people who can’t do math.
Studies show that after five years the average lottery winner has nothing left of their winnings. Unexpected taxes, inexperience handling large sums of money, pressure by family and friends, temptations to vice, all combine to leave winners with no more money than they had before they won. They are also often left with broken relationships, addictions, debt, arrests, and regret. For most lottery winners, hitting the jackpot was the worst thing that ever happened to them. There is a reason that gambling is illegal in most instances, and highly regulated by the government. It is a terribly destructive vice.
Gambling contradicts the biblical work ethic. God’s will is that we are to provide for our needs through honest labor – not through games of chance. (II Thes. 3:10, 12)
Gambling denies the sovereignty of God. When a person gambles he believes his fate is determined by chance or luck rather than the hand of providence. (Pro. 16:33)
Gambling violates the Bible’s prohibition against greed and covetousness. (Ex. 20:17; I Tim. 6:6f.) Gambling is not the same as a commercial transaction. Winners profit at the expense of losers. In order to win, someone else must suffer loss.
19th century British preacher C.H. Spurgeon wrote, “I do not hesitate to say that of all sins, there is none that more supremely damns men, and worse than that, makes them the devils helpers in damning others than gambling.”