Q: #283. Is it a sin to play the lottery?
A: Of course, playing the lottery is gambling (state sponsored gambling). Does this make it a sin? The Bible is not clear on this, however, it certainly runs contrary to many Biblical principles. Consider some of the following things.
It is a fact that the majority of those who play the lottery are poor. When a person wins in the lottery, it is at the expense of others, mainly those who are poor (many must lose for a few to win). Those big jackpots you see only get big for one reason, more people spending more money. We are clearly told in the Bible to protect and help the poor (Prov 31:8-9)(Ps 82:3-4)(Rom 15:1)(Acts 20:35). Aren’t we doing the opposite when we are trying to gain at their expense?
Is your motivation to get rich quickly? The Bible calls this evil (Prov 28:20,22). Are you playing to escape working for a living? The Bible tells us that we should work for our money (Prov 13:11)(Ex 20:9)(Ps 128:2)(1 Th 4:11-12). Are you playing so your needs can be met? We are told in the Bible to trust in God and he will provide for our needs (Ps 37:3-5)(Prov 3:5-6).
Gambling, and the lottery are also a form of coveting (an intense desire to obtain something that someone else has that you do not), which is breaking the 10th Commandment (Ex 20:17) (Also see: Deut 5:21, Rom 7:7, Col 3:5).
All that we own belongs to the Lord (Ps 24:1)(Ps 89:11)(1 Cor 10:26). Is gambling how God would want us to spend the money He has provided for us? I love this quote from Tony Evans (I am paraphrasing), “You entrust your money to banks, God entrusts His money to you. How would you feel if the bank took your money and used it to play the lottery or gamble with it? So how does God feel?”
In preparing this, I decided to look up some stats on the lottery. Let me use one state, Florida, as an example. From what I could tell, in 2011 the state of Florida had $4.2 BILLION in lottery ticket sales. The population of Florida in 2011 was 19,057,542. So, this means an average $220.38 was spent per person on lottery tickets in 2011 (or almost $1000 for a household of 4)! Of course, we know that every person (including children) didn’t play the lottery in Florida in 2011, so the average amount spent by those who did was MUCH higher.
And, as we said above, the vast majority of these are poor. The lottery preys on the poor. There is a much higher concentration of lottery outlets in poor areas than affluent ones. Tickets are readily available in places that people frequent the most: supermarkets (a grocery store chain based in Florida sells 18% of all tickets sold in Florida), gas stations, and convenience stores. Lotteries are continually increasing jackpots and adding new games to keep things exciting and make people want to play. They make promises of a better life.
However, in most cases life is anything but better. Playing the lottery can and has opened the door to other gambling problems. There are people who are addicted to just playing the lottery (I know one person). In America, 4% of the population are estimated to be compulsive gamblers (including playing the lottery). Some are using money that they need to buy food or pay the bills. Even those who win often have families and friendships destroyed, and constant misery as people continually hound them for a share of the money (sometimes even taking life threatening measures). In the end, amazingly, many even end up losing everything they have.
Obviously, the vast majority of those who play the lottery are not addicted to it, they are not overspending on it, their families are not being destroyed. Playing is just seen as “harmless fun.” This may be true, but given that it runs against so many Biblical principles, is it something we should take part in?
Here are a few other good Bible verses to keep in mind related to this topic:
(1 Cor 10:23) All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
(1 Cor 10:31) Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
(1 Th 5:22) Abstain from all appearance of evil.
(Rom 14:21)(NASB) It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. (Will you cause someone to “stumble” in their walk if they know you are playing?)(Also see: Rom 14:13, 1 Cor 8:9-13, 2 Cor 6:3)
*** Note: If you think you are helping to “support schools” by your spending on the lottery, as is often promoted, studies show that in reality, only a VERY small portion actually goes to education. Sadly, in addition to this, money that was intended for education ends up being spent elsewhere because of the lottery money.