In a lottery, people purchase tickets and win prizes that have been determined by chance. Typically, these prizes are money or goods. But people may also win a house, car or boat. Sometimes, governments run lotteries to help finance public projects or programs. Often, these lotteries are marketed as an alternative to illegal gambling. But, as the Bible teaches us, coveting money and the things that money can buy is wrong (Exodus 20:17). Those who play the lottery are also prone to think that if they could just get lucky with their numbers, their problems would disappear. Such hopes are false and deceitful, according to the Bible (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
The Bible also warns against greed (James 4:17). The world’s economy and politics are based on money, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that many people are drawn to the lottery. However, there are ways to avoid becoming addicted to lottery gambling and protect yourself from the many scams associated with it. To help avoid falling into the trap of greed, try to use any winnings to build an emergency fund and pay off credit card debt.
The first recorded lottery dates back to the fourteenth century. Lottery tickets sold for ten shillings in the Low Countries and were used to raise funds for town fortifications and to provide charity for the poor. Lotteries made their way to England and later to America, where they were a staple of colonial life. They helped fund roads, canals, bridges, schools and churches. The foundations of Princeton and Columbia Universities were financed by lotteries, as were many military ventures, including the expedition against Canada in 1744.
Throughout history, people have also used lotteries as a way to select slaves and other valuable items, like land. The casting of lots was used in a variety of ways in Roman times–Nero was a fan–and in the New Testament, when it was necessary to determine who should receive Jesus’s garments after the Crucifixion.
Lotteries today are an integral part of state government, with proceeds being used for everything from education to health care to infrastructure. But in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, as Cohen explains, Americans’ obsession with unimaginable wealth, including dreams of hitting the jackpot in a multimillion-dollar lottery, coincided with the erosion of the nation’s middle class and working classes. Income gaps widened, pensions and job security eroded, the cost of medical insurance and housing skyrocketed, and the American promise that hard work and education would make you richer than your parents ceased to be true.
In this environment, politicians looked to lotteries for a budget miracle. For states that didn’t have sales or income taxes and were averse to raising them, they saw lotteries as a way of bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars seemingly out of thin air. And, they hoped that by instituting lotteries, they could keep existing services without hiking taxes and risking a backlash from voters. It worked.