In the US alone, lottery players spend $80 billion a year. That’s more than the national spending on education or defense combined. Yet the chances of winning are slim, and many who win go bankrupt within a few years.
One of the reasons for this is that lottery winners are often lured by a promise that money will solve their problems, even though God warns against covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his. His possessions are your own” (Exodus 20:17).
It’s important to note that most lottery games grow their jackpots to apparently newsworthy amounts for a couple of reasons. First, it helps drive sales. Second, it gives the game a windfall of free publicity on news sites and newscasts. And finally, it’s a great way to attract attention from potential investors.
The problem is, people can become addicted to lottery playing. Moreover, the costs can add up over the long term and they can be a huge drain on state budgets. In the immediate post-World War II period, some states saw lotteries as a means of expanding their social safety nets without especially onerous taxes on the working class.
But there are better ways to raise money. Historically, governments have imposed sin taxes on vices like gambling in an effort to raise revenue. They are a more effective way to discourage these activities than direct taxation, which tends to punish the poor.