AS A CHRISTIAN IS IT WRONG TO PLAY THE LOTTERY?
Everyone, including Christians, is vulnerable to the allure of the lottery. The slogans are pitched to us every day. Musicians sing about the freedom that instant wealth can offer when they flash images of high-priced cars, vacations on tropical beaches, or stunning homes. Lotteries offer an unburdened life of absolute enjoyment.
A Lotto 6/49 win, or Wintario win, or B.C. win; Express or the Lottario may imply tens of thousands of dollars or even millions, all for as low as a dollar. The promotions of the several different lotteries, most of which are now being implemented through direct government involvement, are trying to attract more and more people to buy a chance to win all their hearts ever dreamed of – freedom, luxury, entertainment, travel, clothing, cars, homes, the world.
Lotteries present us with problems on many levels. They are a problem to us as individual Christians; They cause issues for us as churches. And they also face us with issues as citizens. We should try to deal with them on all those levels.
A PERSONAL ISSUE FOR US
Lotteries challenge us as followers of Christ. Will we follow the crowds and buy all sorts of tickets now being promoted? If we’re business people, will we sell lotteries? Some do it. The enticements to be involved are pretty strong. Lotteries look harmless and entertaining to many people.
But Christians have to ask themselves some serious questions about lottery participation.
For one, can I buy something that is based on many losing so that a small number can win? Doesn’t that fly in the face of Christ’s call to us to take care of each other’s needs and not just our own (Phil. 2:4)?
Can I buy something whose greatest appeal is greed and self-centered interests? Lotteries are marketed because their sales are good for sports or cultural events, but greed is behind most ticket purchases. “Everyone wants to make money and leave their jobs. It’s pretty easy, I think, everybody’s greedy, “said one ticket buyer. Christians can accept this as a matter of importance. A few years ago, Super Loto Manager of Saskatchewan said very candidly, “We base all of our marketing strategies on greed. This is our great selling point.” Such an attitude isn’t the fruit of the Holy Spirit inside us (Gal. 5:22-24). Christians also need to deal with the issue of stewardship. Is it right to spend our money on something that has no guarantee of return and caters to socially questionable attitudes? We must always answer God for the stewardship of the wealth He has given us. We live in a world where several people go to bed hungry. Worthy causes – orphanage homes, Christian churches, colleges, evangelistic projects – all need our money. Spending money on lotteries and gambling is not compatible with the Christian sense of stewardship. Earl Rosenbloom, actuarial professor at the University of Manitoba, puts the odds as follows: “When you play long enough, the probability of losing all that you have is 100%.” “Give yourself as a living sacrifice to the Lord, devoted to His service and pleasing to Him,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2.
Individual Christians must also face the fact that gambling or buying lotteries can be harmful to themselves or others. The Winnipeg pastor describes addiction as a “basic distortion of value judgments, where the addict is willing to invest increased resources for declining satisfaction.” As a different person put it, “it is a disorder characterized by a chronic and progressive inability to resist.” Few might feel that they are in such a place. Still, individual Christians always have to ask themselves if they are at risk of becoming addicted to a thing, or whether, if they revel in the questionable activity, they place a stumbling block in the path of another person who may be in danger of becoming addicted (Rom. 14:13).
If participating in lotteries is catering to our fleshly nature, do we have the right to do it? The answer should definitely be no (Rom. 13:14).
LOTTERIES ARE AN ISSUE FOR THE CHURCH
Several basic scriptural principles come into play here, and we would suggest that the first and most important one is Jesus’ emphasis on love: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The reality is that gambling is not as “innocuous” as you seem to believe it is. It’s based on the loss, pain, and suffering of others. For one to win at gambling, the other must lose. And sometimes the biggest losers are the closest loved ones of the gambler. Families affected by a gambling addiction are at increased risk for negative consequences such as divorce, unemployment, child neglect, domestic violence, crime, and suicide. To know more about this aspect of the problem, we suggest that you consult the following biblical passages: Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31, 10:25-37; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-4; Hebrews 13:1-2.
Since gambling has caused so much pain, and because lotteries have become so popular in our society, we as a society of Christians must do more teaching. A U.S. survey revealed that even among conservative Bible church members, 33 percent participated in gambling and lotteries. The same work (Tom Watson’s Don’t Bet on It, Regal Books) called gambling a form of idolatry. Our worship and faith in money are the main issues involved in gambling and lotteries. If that’s the case, there’s a teaching to do.
Such teaching should deal with a biblical context that can help us understand why lotteries are wrong for Christians and also what gambling and lotteries are doing in society. It should touch upon the behaviors that should characterize Christians, the stewardship of our material possessions, and our primary allegiance to the cause of Christ and His kingdom.
Charles Colson wrote a column outlining some of the issues as follows: “The New American Dream of Free Lunch has infected every level of society: the poor man who spends his grocery money on lottery tickets; the rich man who trades insider information to cheat other investors; the middle-class consumer who has dug himself into a bottomless pit of credit card debt; and the government that spends trillions it doesn’t have, heaping debt on future generations.”
In a helpful way as possible, churches have to accept the challenge of teaching why participation in gambling and lotteries is wrong for Christians.
Lotteries also present the question of joint witness and common action. Christian societies can see the matter of lotteries as something about which they can take action together. They can agree not to buy lottery tickets together. It will be a great help to a person who is addicted to gambling if he or she is part of a group that decides not to purchase lottery tickets together. Individuals can be motivated by the fact that the money that might have been spent on tickets (where the result uncertain) can be donated to the Christian and humanitarian cause (where the use of the money is certain).
They may also agree not to allow the use of funds generated by lotteries. It’s not so easily done, as we all know. Lotteries raise substantial sums of money that are allocated to all kinds of purposes by government-created organizations. Church-related organizations also benefit from such funds – and are, in fact, increasingly taking advantage of them. However, we should speak against taking it because of the way it is made.
Gambling also exploits and preys the misery of the poor. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission observed that those earning less than $10,000 spend more on lottery tickets than any other category. In contrast, high school dropouts spend four times more than college graduates. This is explicitly in contrast with the biblical ethic. Scripture encourages us to look out for the needy and the oppressed and send stern warnings to those seeking to take advantage of their plight. Check Proverbs 14:21, 14:31, 22:16; Isaiah 3:14-15; Amos 5:11-12; Zechariah 7:10.
Also, gambling ruins the work ethic that has been part of God’s plan for mankind from the very beginning. Time and time again, the Bible advises us to supply our own needs and those of our families with fruitful labor (2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). And that’s not all – Christians are also encouraged to work to share with others (Ephesians 4:28). Gambling works against this by promising something for nothing. If you need more scriptural evidence, please take a look at Genesis 2:15; Exodus 20:9; Proverbs 12:11, 13:4, 20:4, 21:25, 28:19.
And there is the matter of greed. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, the apostle Paul writes, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil” The vice of covetousness, which is forbidden by the Tenth Commandment, is closely linked to greed (Exodus 20:17). Gambling, of course, is all about “getting rich quickly” and getting the money of others without giving anything of worth in return. See Proverbs 15:27, 28:20; Matthew 6:31; Luke 12:15; Ephesians 5:3; Col. 3:5; Hebrews 13:5.
Good stewardship practices are also adversely affected by the gambling instinct. Before God, a Christian is responsible for spending the resources entrusted to him soberly and wisely, as the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes clear. Far too often, the money invested in gambling is money that should have been used to meet the basic needs of a family or to further a worthy cause. Gambling is always an unwise investment with almost a definite negative return. What’s more, it is propagating an unethical, corrupt, and exploitative industry. See Genesis 1:26; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:17 for more.
In connection with this last thought, it is worth pointing out that gambling activities are steeped in deception. Lotteries that conceal or misstate odds, casinos without clocks or windows to mark the passing of time, slot machines designed for “near misses,” and “riverboat” casinos that don’t sail are but a few examples of deception. The Scriptures, on the other hand, detest deceitful conduct. See Psalms 5:6, 26:4, 55:23, 101:7; Proverbs 14:8, 12:20, 24:28; Romans 1:29.
Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It is common knowledge that gambling establishments are also the host of many other corrupting vices, including prostitution, drunkenness, and substance abuse. Christians are encouraged to flee temptation and to avoid situations marked by such behaviors. See 1 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:22.
To all of this, we should add that state-regulated gambling is a travesty in that it overturns the God-ordained purpose of government. As set out in Romans 13:1-5, the aim is to protect the welfare of citizens and suppress evil. Legalized gambling is doing the reverse. It victimizes several people, particularly the most vulnerable. It also condones and encourages a vice that has traditionally been repressed specifically because of its natural debilitating and corruptive nature.
Finally, gambling ruins the faith of a believer in God. The Bible teaches that Christians must look to God as their sole provider and be contented with God’s material blessings from His side. Involvement in gambling suggests a lack of trust and dissatisfaction in the Lord’s provision. See, for example, Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:11-12, 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5.
WE ALSO HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY TO GOVERNMENTS
It doesn’t take a long memory to remember that, in many countries, lotteries were once justified because of the good they would do for the community and cultural groups, a good thing that would, however, be difficult to support through ordinary tax revenues. Even though they did so reluctantly, many people gave in to lotteries because of such uses. However, governments have increasingly taken the money raised by lotteries or casinos directly into general revenues to make the funds available for other programs needed. It is becoming apparent that lotteries have become yet another means of taxing people.
Christians should make their opposition to the lottery clear to their governments. For one thing, we need to challenge the socially negative attitudes that lotteries promote. They encourage people to expect a lot for very little. They are marketed in deceptive ways. They encourage people to hope for luck rather than for positive jobs. They encourage greed. They do not make society better, but rather ruin it.
Many studies have shown that while poor people tend to spend a higher percentage of their income on lotteries than middle-and high-income people do, the benefits of lotteries tend to go to higher-income people since they are the ones who use sporting and cultural organizations to get the money. Therefore, even as a tax, lotteries work badly, taxing the poor unfairly to benefit the rich.
Also, as a tax, lotteries are often very inefficient. Less than 40% of the money they raise comes back to the causes they are to support. Approximately 47% is “returned” as prize money. The remainder is used for administration and promotion. Despite their inefficiency, governments prefer lotteries, because those who purchase tickets do so voluntarily. It may be a tax, they say, but people pay it without compulsion.
Yet governments are more deeply interested in lotteries than they often acknowledge. They actively promote the sales of tickets through their lottery commissions and encourage the development of new lotteries so that sales can continue to grow. One of the latest frontiers that some predicted for lotteries is betting developed around sporting events. It is already in existence. Thus, although gambling on sporting events was a major criminal act not long ago, it is now being promoted under government sponsorship.
It is on this front where governments need to be most vigorously questioned. Christians should ensure that if governments are to “allow” lotteries, they should at least stop “promoting” them. There is no morally defensible reason for the government to encourage an activity that can be demonstrated to be as socially deteriorating as gambling.
The Apostle Paul’s word in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 is a good guide as Christians think of a response to the lottery. They give a direction that we need to heed:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
The answer to the call of lotteries and gambling is to be found in greater love and Christ’s love. When that is supreme in our lives, lotteries and gambling will have no place.