Throughout history, governments have used lotteries to finance a wide range of public projects, including roads, libraries, canals, universities, churches, hospitals, and more. It is a common practice that many people enjoy, but it is not without its critics. Some people believe that lotteries are a waste of money and others think that they promote gambling addiction. Despite these concerns, lottery proceeds continue to generate billions of dollars each year in the United States. But how exactly do these funds work?
In his new book, The Lottery, Michael Cohen explores the history of the modern lottery, which began in 1964 when New Hampshire became the first state to launch a government-run game. He writes that the lottery’s modern incarnation started when America’s tax revolt of the late twentieth century reached a turning point, and states faced a choice between raising taxes or cutting services. The latter option was unpopular with voters, so governments turned to the lottery to raise revenue.
According to Cohen, the lottery’s early advocates largely ignored long-standing ethical objections to gambling and argued that since people were going to gamble anyway, the government might as well collect the profits. This argument was appealing, but it hid important information about the lottery’s actual operations. For example, it gave legitimacy to the argument that state-run lotteries were a good way to fund black schools. This distorted the discussion of whether the lottery was beneficial or harmful to society and helped justify the lottery’s expansion.
The problem is that the lottery is not just a money maker; it’s also a powerful addictive force. Its message, which is coded into everything from the look of the tickets to the math behind them, lures people in with promises that they can become rich quickly by betting on numbers. Then, once they get hooked, they begin to spend more and more of their incomes on tickets. This ruins lives, as it makes the average person poorer.
Lottery players are often deceived by the false promise of easy wealth, which contradicts biblical teaching. God wants people to earn their wealth honestly through hard work. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 24:4). The lottery also encourages covetousness by implying that if you can just win, all your problems will go away.