What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an arrangement by which prizes are allocated by a process that relies wholly on chance. Prizes may be awarded to a single person, multiple people in a class, or a group of people. Examples of modern lotteries include those used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is awarded through a random process, and the selection of jurors from lists of registered voters. Lotteries were once commonplace, including in the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British during the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson held one to alleviate his crushing debts in 1826.

A major issue with lottery games is that they entice people to spend money in the hope of winning big. This is a form of covetousness that the Bible warns against, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). People also play lottery in the hopes that it will solve their problems, but God says that only by saving and investing can we have true wealth (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

State lotteries are also a classic example of policy decisions made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no general overview. Once established, a lottery’s policies are almost impossible to change, and the officials who run them become dependent on revenues that they can do very little about.