Is it sinful to play the lottery?

Gambling has long been taboo in Christian circles.  The issue, however, is not addressed very often in our day, except maybe under the category of addictions.  But what of the occasional gambler?  Can Christians go to Vegas and play the slots with a clear conscience?

Nothing has made the issue more cloudy than lottery tickets.  In states like Indiana where there is a state lottery, it is not unusual for guests to be given a gift (at some big dinner, for example) of a lottery ticket.  Hep church pastors often talk about, "If you won the lottery...."   I would never buy a lottery ticket, but I would scratch it off and claim a prize if one was given to me. That is as far as I would go. But others would say no to that.

I confess that I am of the old school. Perhaps because I was around a lot of gambling and did some race track gambling (not much, but some) before I was saved. A cousin has to mow down his forest to sell the wood to pay off a gambling debt.  Coming from Cicero, IL, gambling was all around. I used to deliver papers to the house Al Capone once resided in (obviously he died way before I was born).

You comments on gambling appreciated. Is it right in moderation? Is it a vice? Would Jesus play the lottery?  If someone gave Him a ticket, would He have accepted it and checked it to see if He won?  Some of these questions are not quite so easy, I know.  Also, it is one thing to say what I would do, another what all Christians should do.

Christians should have nothing to do with the lottery period.
50% (11 votes)
Christians should accept a gift of a lottery ticket but throw it away w/out checking.
5% (1 vote)
Christians should accept and cash in a winning lottery ticket if given to them as a gift, but no more.
14% (3 votes)
There is nothing wrong with buying lottery tickets on occasion.
5% (1 vote)
It may be unwise to buy lottery tickets (money would be better saved), but not really a moral issues.
23% (5 votes)
It is wrong only if it becomes an addiction.
5% (1 vote)
None of this really matters at all.
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 22
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There are 29 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I always find it interesting when folks think something can be unwise but not be wrong. How could that be possible?

Of course, it's not wrong in the same way a deliberate act of disobedience is wrong. But isn't unwise a synonym for 'foolish' and isn't folly sin?

It's not OK to act unwisely when Scripture so clearly calls us to be wise and behave wisely.

(But sure, in the scale of things, lots of 'mistakes' are not great evils. I don't hold to the view that all sins are equally serious.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

JD Miller's picture

As a servant of Jesus Christ, I am a steward of the resources he has entrusted me with.   It is definitely not a good use of resources to buy lottery tickets/gamble.  The odds are for the house to win or else it would not be so profitable.  The other issue is that it preys on the most ignorant and desperate among us.   I remember my 8 or 9 year old at the time asking me what a Casino was.  I explained that it is a place where people go to pay to play a game where they have a chance to win, but most of them will lose.  His reply, "in other words a scam."  Yep.  

On the other hand, I would not have a problem with using a "game" to settle a minor dispute.  For example if my sons could not remember whose turn it was to take out the garbage and they drew a card, rolled a dice, or chose a number from one to ten to settle it.  I view this similar to the OT principle of drawing lots.  If however the "game" became a means to try to capitalize on anther persons resources, then it has crossed the line into greed.

 

Bert Perry's picture

My take regarding gambling in general is that it holds out a suggestion of riches for people who can least afford to spare the money, and hence it functions as a particularly nasty tax on the poor.  So if we participate in buying lottery tickets, we take part in holding that golden carrot before the  poor that will further ingrain bad financial habits for them.  I can imagine taking the winnings of a donated ticket to spend on ending the lottery, though.

Along the same lines, if I were a leader of one of our native American bands, I'd be having a serious look at whether I really wanted to tell my young people that the secret to prosperity lies in a casino.  Yes, the money is probably nice, but that probably isn't the biggest need on the res.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

Definitely not an advocate of playing the lottery. I never have and have no plans to do so, but isn't it possible to make most of the arguments used above against eating at McDonalds? Is it wise to eat at McDonalds? Probably not the best as we try to be good stewards of our bodies. Is it financially wise to eat at McDonalds? You could make a similar meal at home for much cheaper. Is it taking advantage of the poor? You could argue it is since it is just so easy to pull in the drive through and spend not THAT much on a burger and fries. Those dollars add up quickly. Is it preying on the most innocent and vulnerable? You bet - unhealthy eaters crave the greasy french fries and shakes that only lead to more poor health. So is eating at McDonalds any less foolish than it would be to buy a scratch off ticket for someone who finds it entertaining? You could argue in the long-term it would be better to waste the money that would be spent at McDonalds on a scratch off ticket than it would be to buy an unhealthy meal that will do long-term damage to your body.  

Dan Miller's picture

I came close to voting for #1: Christians should have nothing to do with the lottery period.

(And if I HAD to vote, that would be my vote. But I don't like the universality of it. I am a particular applicationist, through and through. That means that making extra-biblical rules and treating them as rules for everyone isn't good, even if it's a rule that everyone should make for themselves.)

The reason for #1 is that the lottery represents an unbliblical attitude towards money and work. Work is a blessing. Earnings are a blessing. Working for earnings is a blessing. 

The lottery stands opposed to that. The enjoyment of playing is tied to the longing for money not earned. Lots of it. At its core it is an illicit longing. And to engage in lottery stokes that longing, even if one never wins. And if you do win, even moderate amounts, then it really does. I would put all of gambling in this category. 

Bert Perry's picture

Bob, there's a significant difference between going out to fast food joints and playing the lottery.  In the former case, all you do is to help keep the place open so it can serve their customers.  (or I might joke that as out of shape as I am, I might dissuade others from patronizing because they don't want to look like the fat old guy eating there)

In the case of the lottery, every ticket I buy increases the size of the jackpot and makes it more attractive to its patrons. 

So it is qualitatively somewhat different from eating at the golden arches, I think.   

One other note is that I've read that one big reason poor people go for packaged food and fast food a lot precisely because they lack the means to actually learn how to cook.  So on one side, we have a great avenue for ministry--bring out your inner Julia Child and help them get to that point--as well as a reason to do what we can to "stanch the bleeding" of the poor in terms of their finances.  That would include the lottery.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Dan Miller wrote:

The lottery stands opposed to that. The enjoyment of playing is tied to the longing for money not earned. Lots of it. At its core it is an illicit longing. And to engage in lottery stokes that longing, even if one never wins. And if you do win, even moderate amounts, then it really does. I would put all of gambling in this category. 

So then, let me ask this: Would you put a raffle drawing for a good cause in same category?  I ask, because in the raffle drawings I've participated in, 100% of the money collected goes to the cause (one I believe in), the prize is donated, and the prize doesn't change by how many people play.  However, it would seem to still represent "illicit longing" as you put it, even if we are talking about say, a gun vs. a bazillion dollars.

I agree with your distaste of gambling in general, but I share your discomfort at making extra-biblical rules and applying them to everyone else.

I consider most gambling a "tax on people who can't do math," but I'm not sure the same applies to a charitable raffle, especially when you understand your chances of winning are miniscule, but you are prepared to "donate" your lost money to the cause.  Thoughts?

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

dcbii wrote:
So then, let me ask this: Would you put a raffle drawing for a good cause in same category?  I ask, because in the raffle drawings I've participated in, 100% of the money collected goes to the cause (one I believe in), the prize is donated, and the prize doesn't change by how many people play.  However, it would seem to still represent "illicit longing" as you put it, even if we are talking about say, a gun vs. a bazillion dollars.

I agree with your distaste of gambling in general, but I share your discomfort at making extra-biblical rules and applying them to everyone else.

I consider most gambling a "tax on people who can't do math," but I'm not sure the same applies to a charitable raffle, especially when you understand your chances of winning are miniscule, but you are prepared to "donate" your lost money to the cause.  Thoughts?

Well, I've based the wrong-ness of lottery in the illicit longing to get a lot of money and become free from work. 

There could be a noble motive for buying a ticket - and some states at least initially have passed lottery bills on the basis that the proceeds will go to education. So then you could have someone saying they played in order to support the local school. But honestly, the motive for playing is the "fun" of hoping for riches and the chance of getting riches.

The raffle is different in some key ways:

- The item you're looking to win isn't life-changing. It's a TV or a bike or maybe a trip. Nothing that will change your overall relationship with work. 

- The aspect of "good cause" is prominent in the promotion and motive to buy tickets.

But it's similar in that:

- There could be an element of an illicit longing? I dunno, though. I mean yeah, you could be really hoping for that bike. And willing might give you a sense that winning was so much fun and you really want that again. I just don't see that in myself, though. Or in others. I've asked people before, "Why do you play the lottery?" They say it's fun to imagine what it would be like to win big and they feel they have to be in it to win it. But I just don't see that sense of "what if my life was changed by this raffle" in raffles. It's just fun. 

- It is technically gambling - so someone who has struggled in the past with gambling surely should leave the raffle alone.

 

Todd from Idaho, who used to be on here, used to call convictions like this "heart issues." And this is a case that illustrates why. If you - in your heart - feel the pull of longing for freedom from God's blessing of work when you play a raffle, then don't. 

But the lottery? That longing is its raison d'etre

JD Miller's picture

I would agree that if the longing is the motivation for playing the raffle, then avoid it.  If giving to charity is your motivation then no problem.  Although we should not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing, in a small town, not giving toward a raffle for a good cause can be seen as not caring about the community.  

Larry's picture

Moderator

Rather, the problem with gambling from the perspective of Christian ethics is that the entire mechanic is built on my hope of my gaining at the expense of my neighbor while offering him nothing. I cannot hope to win without hoping that he will lose—and that his money will become mine. And that, I contend, suggests and gambling and loving my neighbor are mutually exclusive activities.

https://g3min.org/an-argument-against-gambling/

 

Article by Michael Riley

Larry's picture

Moderator

there's a significant difference between going out to fast food joints and playing the lottery

This is true, though I presume Bert's post is tongue in cheek. The difference is that in fast food purchase, you are exchanging something of value for something of value. It is legitimate economic activity (see article above). Purchasing a lottery ticket provides you nothing of value (unless you are the one in millions that wins). 

A raffle might be different because there is a legitimate benefit provided. If you are going to donate money to the local Little League to enable them to allow kids to play baseball, it is a good thing to do (if you so choose; I choose to make that donation by registration fees). If you also have a chance to win something, that does not invalidate the legitimate economic activity of a gift. It is a different category than a lottery ticket. It is something you would do anyway. I admit I am not entirely comfortable with that argument. I don't buy raffle tickets. But if someone were to, it seems a different category than a lottery ticket.

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, the part about me being a fat old man that might persuade people not to eat at Chez Mac (McDonald's) is tongue in cheek, but the part about participating in the lottery making it more attractive to people, if but incrementally, is dead serious.   When we buy a $2 ticket, half of that goes to the jackpot, and the big lotteries do indeed advertise how much money can be had.

And that plays in to what Dan Miller notes about the difference between penny-ante games of chance and life-changing types.  Even with that, though, you've got the reality of Exodus 20 and "thou shalt not covet."  So I don't feel terribly guilty about participating in cake-walks (winning sometimes) at square dances when I was a kid, but it is something where I'd note you've got to do a bit of a heart check.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Dan Miller's picture

Along with the psychology of longing for release from the blessing of work, there is also an element of Intermittent Reinforcement. 

There are a few psychological principles that I think Christians ought to understand and Intermittent Reinforcement is one of them. It shows up in lots of places, including dating, work, and gambling and even I guess raffles. 

Back in Med School, my wife worked by buying and selling antiques. Estate auctions and yard sales every week. I remember one Friday night saying, "You know it's been a long week and we're both tired. Why don't you sleep in tomorrow and not go yard saling?" But I woke up at 7:00 and she was gone. She woke up at 6:00 and laid there thinking about what she might be missing. That's how that business works - lots of times you find nothing, but sometimes you find a bowl worth $5,000 for sale for 10 bucks - that's Intermittent Reward. And it's very addicting. I'm not saying it's bad. It's must one of our natural patterns of motivation. And some things (casinos, etc.) are designed specifically to appeal to that natural pattern in powerfull, addicting ways.

Larry's picture

Moderator

but the part about participating in the lottery making it more attractive to people, if but incrementally, is dead serious

What I had in mind was the apparent suggestion that the lottery was a better or more legitimate use of money than eating at McDonalds. Of course there is an incremental attractiveness but at the heart of the lottery is the illegitimate attempt to gain money apart from the God-ordained means of work and production. In buying food, you are exchanging something of value for something of value (money for food) and also enabling someone else to participate in the economic system as God intended (work for food). You are not playing a game of chance, the odds of which decrease as more people are attracted to it. No matter how many billions McDonald's serves, you will get the same thing. The more people the lottery attracts, the smaller your chances of winning.

The question is, Is raw chance a biblical means of gaining money?

The lottery only does that if we participate in some rather torturous types of argumentation. It may be attractive, but attractiveness is not a biblical measure of economic activity in that sense. It is only attractive because of the increase of the violation of God's plan.

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

So if that is the argument, doesn't investing in the stock market, investing in start-ups, real-estate (any of that ultimately is a gamble because there is no sure thing in investing), not pass the test you have established as the moral test of avoiding God's system for economics? 

Again, I do not participate in the lottery, and I do eat at McDonalds. My only point is that some of the logic and basis behind some of the things that have been preached about loudly from pulpits do not pass the test of being consistent with most pastor's own life choices. We need to be careful to be consistent. The generation of young people who are questioning everything sees the inconsistencies whether or not we do.

Bert Perry's picture

Bob, Larry, my thought was that making the lottery more attractive to its patrons, especially the poor patrons, is a bad thing, that there is something bad in itself about taking a lottery that dangles, say, $1 million in front of the poor, and then buying a ticket to make it a million and one dollars.  

The comparison to fast food is that if I buy a Big Mac, that does not make McDonald's incrementally more attractive to people, but if I buy a lottery ticket, then I have incrementally increased the perceived reward before the very people who can least afford to devote resources to the lottery.  Follow me now?

(apologies for confusing Bob & Larry here....I blame Veggie Tales! j/k)

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

....is that "the house always wins" with the lottery, since the lion's share of ticket sales (or gambling revenues in general) always goes to the house--the casino or the state that runs the lottery. On the flip side, with a genuine investment, almost all of the revenue goes to the enterprise, which in turn will tend to make that investment more valuable over time.

Yes, there are exceptions, but there's no built in "drain" like you find in organized gambling.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

So if that is the argument, doesn't investing in the stock market, investing in start-ups, real-estate (any of that ultimately is a gamble because there is no sure thing in investing), not pass the test you have established as the moral test of avoiding God's system for economics? 

No because in investing, you can judge the product. You can tell if a company is making money, if a real estate developer is actually developing real estate, if a startup has a product that people might be willing to buy. In all those cases you are actually able to research and you are actually investing in something ... even if it is  a person. A lottery is pure chance. It is a completely different system. There are no guarantees in anything, but there is a difference between informed risk and pure chance. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Follow me now?

Yep. My bad. I did misunderstand. I am glad to be straightened around on that.

JD Miller's picture

The stock market and real estate both involve risk.  The difference is that when you invest you get something of tangible value.  Of course that value can go down, but you still have something and the odds of losing the whole investment in the stock market or real estate are nearly as high as the odds of losing your whole investment in the lottery.

Dan Miller's picture

I feel like fundies are particularly bad at discerning the difference between extreme and moderate. Opium is extremely addictive, so we would all agree is sin. But then someone pipes up and says, what about coffee? That's addictive also!

Yes, gambling is sin in large part because it's extremely addictive. And it's addictive because it appeals to the desire to not work and it's designed with intermittent rewards. But like I said, lots of things in life have intermittent rewards and that doesn't make them sin. Lawyers often have intermittent rewards (both financial and personal successes) because they make their case and sometimes win. Sales people tend to have intermittent rewards. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Lawyers often have intermittent rewards (both financial and personal successes) because they make their case and sometimes win. Sales people tend to have intermittent rewards.

But in both of these cases, there is a legitimate exchange of products taking place. There is no such thing in the lottery. The person buying a lottery ticket receives nothing of actual value in exchange. They receive a chance at actual value (a small chance). For lawyers/salespeople comparison to work, the person hiring a lawyer would only receive a chance at representation in court, and it would depend on how many other people hired the lawyer. There would be something like a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that the lawyer would show up for you. And a 999,999 out of a 1,000,000 that the lawyer doesn't show up. Or the customer buying from the sales person would receive a chance at getting a product shipped to them. 

JD Miller's picture

I missed an edit in my earlier comment.  The odds of losing everything in the stock market or real estate are NOT as high as losing everything in the lottery.  When you invest you are expecting to get a return and such an expectation is reasonable.  When you buy a lottery ticket it is not reasonable to expect a return on your investment.

Farming is definitely a gamble, but that gamble is taken with a reasonable expectation for reward.  In the parable of the talents, we are shown that it is good to take a risk with a reasonable expectation for reward.

Dan Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

Lawyers often have intermittent rewards (both financial and personal successes) because they make their case and sometimes win. Sales people tend to have intermittent rewards.

But in both of these cases, there is a legitimate exchange of products taking place. There is no such thing in the lottery. The person buying a lottery ticket receives nothing of actual value in exchange. They receive a chance at actual value (a small chance). For lawyers/salespeople comparison to work, the person hiring a lawyer would only receive a chance at representation in court, and it would depend on how many other people hired the lawyer. There would be something like a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that the lawyer would show up for you. And a 999,999 out of a 1,000,000 that the lawyer doesn't show up. Or the customer buying from the sales person would receive a chance at getting a product shipped to them. 

 yeah. Larry, I am not comparing those as much as noting that they all share the element of Intermittent Reward. 
Trial law and professions like antique dealing have that element and it makes them kinda addicting. Kinda. 

Gambling has that element much more and it makes it addicting. Very. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

 I am not comparing those as much as noting that they all share the element of Intermittent Reward. 

Fair enough. Would have to think more on that aspect of it. I get the antique dealing, but not so much the trial lawyer part of it. But even then, in antiques, there is a real exchange taking place. Even if you badly misjudged the value of something, you still got something.

Bert Perry's picture

I've personally benefited from morphine, an opium derivative, when coming out of gallbladder surgery, and I might note that it is the intoxication that is the sin, not the drug itself.  The addictive nature of opium derivatives simply makes the risk of intoxication far greater, which also parallels the issues of "intermittent rewards" and (I've at least read) the dopamine hits that the gambling industry loves to use.

A brilliant, or hideous, picture of the same are some things I've seen as I've had to go to Vegas for business conventions--you can't altogether avoid the casino floors, because they route you through.  The first thing I saw was an old man playing the "one armed bandit" (slot machine) while a very scantily clad, and very attractive, waitress brought him a sandwich and a drink.  He hardly noticed her.  I saw the same thing again when I saw inside another casino where a woman was dancing "for the patrons" more or less in her undergarments--and nobody was watching her.

Now I'm not encouraging men to ogle women, but there is something to be said when grown men are around extremely scantily clad women and they don't even flinch.  That's how powerful the "dopamine hits" or whatever in the gambling industry are.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Since the Bible does not forbid playing the lottery (spending money for a chance at getting more in return . . . sounds awfully similar to investment planning, to me!), we have another case of an issue involving Christian liberty - and I think the variety of responses in the comments here bear that out. It would go against my conscience to partake in an activity that preys on those either in need or who are addicted, both of which are very real problems with the lottery. Gambling is one of the vices to which many become addicted (far more than being addicted to Big Mac sandwiches, even if someone may actually be addicted to them . . . a person can be addicted to anything, after all). My conscience tells me that if I spend anything on something that directly supports the addiction of another that I am wrong, therefore it would be sin for me to do it.

___

Not to change the subject, but chance-based decision-making is not, in itself, immoral - how many times were lots cast in the Bible? My wife and I have found "casting lots" an extremely freeing parental option to exercise with our kids when it comes to decision-making, because it has freed us from the risk of showing favoritism and it has been an excellent tool of instruction to help them understand "life isn't fair." When we see a situation involving singling out one or two kids for something they all desire, we have frequently told them we're just going to cast lots (yes, we actually use that phrase, in an albeit tongue-in-cheek manner). Smile

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Lee's picture

If deliberately acting against all that we know as being biblically and practically wise in any other matter is sin, then this too would be sin.

 

Lee