The casting of lots to determine fate has a long record in human history (see, for example, Moses’s instructions for conducting a lottery to decide who gets the land in the Bible). More recently, people have used lotteries to distribute material goods or money. Lotteries are government-sponsored games in which participants pay an entrance fee for a chance to win prizes, which typically take the form of cash or merchandise.
Lottery laws vary by state, but most state lotteries follow a similar pattern: the government legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public agency or corporation to run the lottery (rather than licensing private firms in return for a cut of the profits); begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, under pressure to produce additional revenues, progressively expands the range of available products and games.
There is an inextricable element of gambling involved with the lottery; it’s difficult for most people to resist the urge to try their luck at something that offers a potentially substantial payout. The desire to make money is an inherent human impulse, and lottery advertising capitalizes on this by dangling the prospect of instant riches. But there’s also a deeper issue here: Lotteries promote the false hope that money will solve life’s problems, and they lure people in with promises of wealth without effort. This is a form of covetousness, which God forbids.
Another issue is the way that lottery revenue is collected and distributed. Many states earmark the proceeds for a specific purpose, such as education, and this is a popular argument in support of the lottery. But it turns out that, on average, the money raised by state lotteries does not significantly differ from the amount of taxation required to fund the same purposes.
The final issue is that lottery players are not representative of the population as a whole. The vast majority of players and winners are middle-class, while the poor participate at far less than their proportion in the population. This is a reversal of the postwar experience, when lottery revenues were viewed as a painless alternative to taxes that would otherwise be required to support a large social safety net.