The lottery is a form of gambling in which you pay for a ticket, select numbers, and hope your chosen numbers match those randomly drawn by a machine. People who play the lottery may win cash or goods such as automobiles and television sets. The idea behind a lottery is that everyone has an equal chance of winning. In some cases, governments run lotteries to determine things like who will get units in a subsidized housing block or a kindergarten placement. The lottery is a good way to make sure that everybody gets a fair opportunity, and is particularly useful when there is high demand for something.
The book traces the origins of the modern lottery back to the seventeenth century, when it became common in the Low Countries to hold lotteries in order to raise money for all sorts of public purposes. As the seventeenth century came to a close, the lottery became a big business, and it wasn’t long before states were finding themselves with enormous surpluses from their gambling operations.
In the nineteen-sixties, this sudden avalanche of profits collided with a crisis in state funding, as population growth and inflation sparked a budget crunch. It was becoming increasingly difficult for many states to balance their books without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were deeply unpopular with voters. In this environment, the pro-lottery forces found a powerful ally in Scientific Games, a company that first made its name by introducing scratch-off tickets, which, like Ikea furniture, let people feel as though they were actively participating and thus had some control over their fate.
Lottery commissions weren’t above availing themselves of psychological tricks, either, such as the use of repetition and the glorification of winners to keep players coming back. This is not a practice that is normally engaged in by government agencies, but it isn’t all that different from how tobacco and video-game manufacturers operate.
The result has been that a huge number of Americans now spend a significant portion of their incomes on lottery tickets. They may be convinced that they are a rationally chosen method of getting rich, but statistically, the odds are long against them. Moreover, playing the lottery focuses their attention on short-term riches rather than the eternal riches promised by God: “Lazy hands shall not eat” (Proverbs 24:24). Instead, they should focus on hard work and earn their wealth honestly. If they do, they will be blessed by the Lord with a generous harvest of both material and spiritual blessings.