In the United States alone, millions of people play the lottery each week, contributing billions to state budgets. Some play to have fun, but others believe the lottery is their only hope of achieving financial success. The odds are extremely low for winning a major prize, but many players continue to play hoping to find the winning ticket. The Bible warns us against playing the lottery because it focuses our attention on earthly wealth, rather than on seeking God’s righteousness and eternal riches (Proverbs 23:5).
Lotteries have a long history. The first keno slips were used by the Chinese Han dynasty in the 2nd millennium BC to determine winners of prizes in games of chance. In Europe, the first public lotteries were held in the 15th century to raise funds for town fortifications and to help poor citizens. Prizes were often in the form of goods such as dinnerware.
A number of studies have analyzed the relationship between lottery play and household income, finding that it is most common among lower-income households and minorities. The authors of one study, using Consumer Expenditure Survey data, found that respondents from money-losing households spent a larger proportion of their incomes on lottery tickets and pari-mutual betting than did their counterparts who were not losing money in these activities.
A popular criticism of the lottery is that it is a hidden tax, and that the proceeds are often diverted from public services such as education and health care. The reality is that the percentage of lottery proceeds that is directed toward education depends on the state’s priorities, and varies widely from county to county. In California, for example, Lottery funds are distributed to public schools based on average daily attendance and full-time enrollment for K-12 schools, and on tuition for community colleges and higher education.