Lottery History

The casting of lots to determine fates and fortunes has a long record in human history, dating back to the Bible. Lottery games that distribute prize money are of much more recent origin. They began in the early 15th century in Europe. They may have been inspired by similar practices in the Americas (the casting of lots was used to fund repairs for the city of Bruges in 1466).

Lotteries promote themselves to a broad public audience. But they also target specific constituencies, including convenience store operators (who typically sell the tickets); lottery suppliers and retailers; teachers (in those states where lotteries are a major source of education funding); and state legislators. State lotteries are widely considered to be the most popular form of gambling in the country. And they are a significant source of revenue for state governments.

Historically, most state lotteries have evolved in fairly predictable ways: a legislature legalizes the lottery; establishes a state agency or public corporation to run it (as opposed to licensing a private firm for a fee); begins operations with a relatively modest number of relatively simple games; and then gradually introduces new games in an effort to increase revenues. Revenues have often grown rapidly after lottery introduction, but then have plateaued or declined. The constant pressure to increase revenue results in lottery commissions promoting a wide range of activities, often at cross-purposes to the interests of the public.

People who play lotteries are largely motivated by the desire to acquire wealth. They want the things that money can buy, including time to spend in whatever way they choose. They are often lured by promises that if they win the jackpot, their problems will be solved. But these hopes are unrealistic. They are a form of covetousness that violates one of God’s most fundamental laws: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, his wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is your neighbors.”