The Truth About Lottery Funding

In a lottery, players pay for tickets and try to match numbers drawn by machines. They can win prizes, such as cash or goods, depending on the number of tickets they purchase and the numbers they select. Lotteries have long been popular in America, but they also helped finance many projects in colonial era Europe. Benjamin Franklin, for example, held a lottery to raise funds to buy cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British.

After World War II, state governments began to use lotteries as a way to increase services without significantly increasing taxes on the middle and working classes. This arrangement allowed state governments to expand their social safety nets at a fraction of the cost of raising new taxes, but it did not last. By the 1970s, states were running out of ways to expand their services without significantly raising taxes, and they had to find other revenue sources.

Lotteries became one of the most common of these alternatives, and they have been used to fund everything from paving streets to building colleges. They have become a major source of painless, “voluntary” revenue for state governments, and they create extensive, specific constituencies: convenience store operators (who get their profits from selling lotteries); lottery suppliers (heavy contributions by these firms to state political campaigns are regularly reported); teachers (in those states where revenues are earmarked for education); and many more.

While there are countless lottery winners who claim to have quote-unquote systems that defy all statistical reasoning, the vast majority of people know that their odds are long. Yet they continue to play, clinging to the notion that they will someday win. This is a dangerous, self-destructive pattern. God desires that we gain wealth honestly through work: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 24:11).