Why I Am Opposed to a State Lottery

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Article 13, section 5 of Minnesota’s state constitution says, “The legislature shall not authorize any lottery or the sale of lottery tickets.” State Senator Clarence Purfeerst and Representative Leo Reding are sponsoring bills which would allow voters to amend the constitution to allow state sponsored lotteries. A state lottery would involve payment by the bettors, a drawing by lot and a prize. The state keeps a chunk of the earnings and gives the rest to the winners. Supporters guess Minnesota could net about $50 million a year.

There are two issues we must consider. One is whether it is right to wager small sums of money in hopes of winning more. The other is whether the state should endorse and support a system of such wagering. I would say no to both questions for the following reasons. Let’s begin with Scripture:

We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:7–10)

This passage clearly teaches that we should not want to get rich. It may not seem like the American way, but it is God’s way. We are “aliens and exiles” in this fallen world and are not to be conformed to the motives of the world (Romans 12:1–2). The text goes on to say that we are to pursue, not riches, but “righteousness (remember Matthew 6:33!), godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). We should crave righteousness the way the world craves money.

But the motivation to participate in a lottery is not “hunger and thirst for righteousness”; it is a desire to get rich. The state lottery in Connecticut is promoted with these words: “Win up to $10,000 now —$1,000,000 later . . . play anywhere, win anytime . . . for people who just can’t wait to get rich.” So I think it is wrong for persons to wager a little in hopes of getting a lot, because people who trust God devote their energies and resources to righteousness and do not want to get rich. Examine yourself to see where your heart is (Matthew 6:21).

A second reason I think such gambling is wrong is that good stewards do not handle their master’s money that way. Faithful trustees may not gamble with a trust fund. They have no right. Everything we own is a trust from God to be used for his glory — not a tenth, everything. Jesus said he would return to settle accounts some day as to how we used our possessions and skills (Matthew 25:19). He told a parable to guide us in our stewardship. A man gave 5, 2, and 1 talents (a large sum of money) to three servants respectively. The first two are commended because they went and worked with them (Matthew 25:16).

The same word “work” is found in 1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and Ephesians 4:28. Faithful stewards do not gamble, they work; they purchase and trade. Most people would argue that you shouldn’t gamble with someone else’s money. This is in fact the case with all our money. Therefore, we should not play lotteries with God’s trust fund.

Senator Purfeerst would say, “Okay, if that’s the way you see it, don’t participate. But you have no business forcing others to follow your morals.” I agree: The state should preserve my freedom to do right and another’s freedom to do wrong, provided his wrong only injures himself.

But a state-run lottery does more than preserve your right to wager. As a source of revenue the state would push to have as many people as possible into the act of gambling. They would not be guarding rights but endorsing, supporting, and promoting the act of gambling. Since revenue is the only justification of a state lottery, the state would actively allure as many people as possible to wager their earnings. The advertising would be slick and powerful. It would hook most easily those people who need just the opposite; namely, encouragement and guidance in fiscal diligence and responsibility.

Article 13, section 5 of our state constitution is a good law. It does not deny individuals their due rights. It denies the state the right to endorse and promote gambling and allure its citizenry into greed.