Christians Struggle With Urge to Play the Lottery as Studies Show It Harms the Poor

Mega Millions
A ticket is seen ahead of the Mega Millions lottery draw which reached a jackpot of 5 Million in Manhattan, New York, U.S., July 1, 2016. |

As the Mega Millions jackpot on Tuesday and Wednesday's Powerball haul soared to a combined $2.22 billion over the weekend, Christians remained deeply divided over whether they should participate in the gamble even as studies show lotteries disproportionately attract those who can least afford it.

"Lord, please help the saints to resist the devil and not play the lottery! Lord that's a lot of money lol. 'Loose Here!'" Pastor DeMarlon J. Nixon of Freedom Temple Pentecostal Church in Texas quipped in a tweet on Sunday.

Pastor Chad Brown of Chad Brown Ministries says he believes Christians should go ahead and purchase a lottery ticket if that's what they desire because many churches participate in games of chance outside of lotteries.

"Should believers buy a mega millions ticket ($2)? My answer is YES!! If that's what they want to do," Brown said in a Facebook post on Friday.

"You can't be against the lottery, but your youth department is doing a RAFFLE! Same thing pastor. SAME THING! You can't be against the lottery and you have a prize of $500 for whoever brings the most people on family and friends day. IJS," he continued.

NewSpring Church founder Perry Noble, who revealed on his blog that he bought 10 lottery tickets in January 2016 in a bid to win a $1.3 billion jackpot, also shared his perspective on gambling.

"Is gambling bad? Yep...but sex can be as well!! Do we get rid of that too?" he asked.

"I've heard the heartbreaking stories of people spending their paycheck on lottery tickets and living in poverty — what people do not understand is the mindset of people who do this — it's not the lottery, it's something deeper, and if they did not have the lottery to blow their money on they would find something else," he argued.

"To those who want debate on this (I won't argue — I am way too busy watching to see if I won) I would simply ask you have money in the stock market? If so then guess what — you are gambling!!!" he insisted. "It's gambling — you are putting your money into something hoping it will go up — and don't hand me that crap about how it's not a gamble but a sure thing, because I saw people lose their life savings in the recession of 2008!!!"

Brown, in his post, argued that as long as Christians aren't sacrificing essential needs to play the lottery, he doesn't see any harm in it.

"Now, should you sacrifice your rent, trying to play the lottery, hoping to win? Absolutely NOT! Should you neglect any other responsibilities you have to take a chance at winning? NO! But if you've got an extra $2 laying around, and you wanna play it, HAVE FUN! Let me know if you win. Bless your church, your community, your family and ME!" he said.

Christians who don't support the lottery should simply not participate and allow others their freedom to choose, Brown asserted. 

But Joel Hunter, a retired senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida, previously argued that while the Bible doesn't address gambling, it cautions against get-rich-quick schemes.

"There are no specific [Bible] verses on gambling per se — that is indulging in an activity whose outcome depends on chance rather than skill. It's not really directly spoken to in Scripture. So buying a lottery ticket is not by definition a biblically forbidden sin," he said.

"In Scripture there are instances of casting lots but usually not for material gain. It rather emphasizes the sovereignty of God. For example, Proverbs 16:33 says 'the lot is cast into the lap but it's every decision is from the Lord.'

"Now, having said that, let me tell you that the biblical principles that would dissuade a Christian from gambling are several. First, we must guard against our love of money," he said, noting that the love of money is the root of "all kinds of evil."

Statistics from the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries showed that Americans in the 43 states where lotteries are legal spent $70 billion on lotto games in 2014 alone.

A Duke University study in the 1980s also noted that it's the poorest third of households in the U.S. that buy half of all lotto tickets, in part because lotteries are advertised most aggressively in poorer neighborhoods.

Another study conducted by state economists at the University Research Center shows similar results.

"More revenue is transferred to the government from lower income participants than higher income participants," the 2017 study notes. "Economic researchers have found greater income inequality in states with lotteries than states without lotteries, a reflection of the outcomes described above. At least one study cites the proliferation of state lotteries in the rise in income inequality in the U.S. which began in the 1970s."

And while one of the benefits of lotteries is generally touted as a way to generating funding for public schools, researching cited by the Public School Review suggests that in some states, rather that supplementing local education budgets, proceeds from lotteries are being used to fund education budgets as they slash education funding.

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