What is a Lottery?


A lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by chance. The term is most often used for a public lottery wherein players purchase tickets and then win prizes if their numbers match those randomly selected by a machine. Private lotteries are also common. They can take the form of drawing a name to receive a particular prize or service, such as units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a public school.

State governments that introduce a lottery are typically trying to convince voters that they are raising money for their state without onerous taxation. In fact, the majority of lottery revenue goes to a few well-connected, powerful interests: convenience store owners and their employees; state lottery suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are frequently reported); teachers, especially in those states where some lottery revenues are earmarked for education; and state legislators, who quickly become accustomed to the extra cash.

While the wealthy do not spend as much on lottery tickets as other Americans, they do contribute a significant portion of lottery revenues, and the richest 20% to 30% of lottery players are responsible for half of all ticket sales. In addition, those in the bottom quintile of income have very little discretionary spending available to them and tend to spend only a few dollars on lottery tickets each year. The result is a regressive impact that is harmful to poor communities and the long-term prospects of their children for prosperity in America.

Most of the rest of the country is in between these two extremes, with a good chunk of players falling into the 21st through 60th percentile of income distribution. This group has a couple of dollars each week to spend on lottery tickets and can afford it, but they may not be as invested in the American dream or willing to put their lives on hold to pursue it. Instead, they might prefer to live off of the interest from a lottery winning, which will yield them more money in a short period of time than investing in their own businesses or other opportunities for wealth-building over the long-term.

Lottery players have some pretty crazy, quote-unquote systems about lucky numbers and stores and times of day to buy tickets and which types of scratch-off cards are the most likely to win. But, most of them know that the odds of winning are long and they are just hoping to hit it big so that their dreams will come true.

While it is easy to get sucked into the idea that winning the lottery will solve all of your problems, the truth is that it won’t. The Bible teaches that we are to earn our own wealth through hard work. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 23:5). It’s important to remember that the Bible teaches us to be wise and not foolish with our money.