What is the Lottery?


The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw the practice, while others endorse it and organize state or national lotteries. The prizes are often large, but the odds of winning are very low. Some states even prohibit the sale of lottery tickets.

There are many kinds of lottery games, but all involve some combination of chance and consideration. The prize money may be a cash sum or goods, services, or land. In some cases, players can also win a trip or other special prizes. Depending on the game, a percentage of the pool normally goes to costs for organizing and promoting the lottery, and another percentage is typically taken by profit or revenue for the organizers. The remainder is available for the winners.

In the United States, most states now conduct a lottery. The term “lottery” derives from the Dutch word lot, meaning “fate” or “turn of the wheel.” The earliest recorded lotteries appeared in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century as a way to raise funds for town fortifications and charity. These were often held in towns for the poor and needy, and a record of one is found in Ghent in 1445.

Despite the risks and pitfalls, lotteries remain popular with a wide range of people. The average player spends about $140 a week, and the odds of winning a jackpot are very low. The popularity of the lottery has been connected to economic fluctuation; Cohen reports that sales increase as incomes fall, unemployment rises, and poverty rates increase, while lottery advertising is most heavily promoted in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor, black, or Latino.

Lottery profits have been used to improve public infrastructure, such as paving roads, constructing wharves, and building churches. Historically, they have also been used to fund educational institutions, including Harvard and Yale. Despite conservative Protestant objections to gambling, many of these early American lotteries gained broad approval because they could be seen as supporting a social good.

Those who play the lottery frequently say that they do so because they enjoy it, not for the prize money. However, the fact is that most players are motivated primarily by the desire to covet wealth and things that money can buy. The Bible warns against such a covetousness in Exodus 20:17, and in Ecclesiastes 5:10. Those who are convinced that winning the lottery will solve their problems must remember that they can only gain possession of so much. The rest must rely on God, who can provide them with the means to endure whatever circumstances they face. He also provides them with the strength to cope with them. This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Sojourners. To subscribe, visit our online store or call 1-800-835-3678. Sojourners, September/October 2017. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. For reprint and licensing inquiries, contact Sojourners Magazine.