What is the Lottery?


The lottery is a game of chance in which people buy tickets for a prize (usually cash) based on the results of a random drawing. The prize money can vary widely, but often it is a fixed percentage of total receipts. Lottery games are common in Europe and the United States. Some governments organize state-sponsored lotteries. Others run private ones. In either case, the prize money can include anything from cash to goods to property.

The Bible warns against coveting money and things that money can buy. Buying lottery tickets is an example of a greedy scheme that is statistically futile. It also focuses one’s attention on the temporary riches of this world rather than on the eternal treasures to come (Proverbs 23:5; Ecclesiastes 10:4).

While it is true that the odds of winning are terrible, it is also true that there is some entertainment value to playing the lottery for some individuals. In those cases, the disutility of a monetary loss is offset by the expected utility of a non-monetary gain.

Benjamin Franklin organized a number of lottery drawings to raise money to purchase cannons for the city of Philadelphia. George Washington was a manager for a private lottery that offered land and slaves as prizes in the 1770s, and the Boston Mercantile Journal published rare tickets bearing his signature. These are now collectors’ items. In modern times, people play the lottery by purchasing tickets through a video lottery terminal or in person at a retail outlet. The winning numbers are drawn by hand or with a machine that randomly selects numbers from a pool.