THE LOTTERY: “YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF”

Neal Pollard

The Powerball jackpot is up to half a billion dollars and those inclined to participate will have until 7:30 PM tonight to buy a chance at this record-setting lottery payout.  The odds of winning are 1 in 175 million. Denise Dillon, a Fox reporter from Atlanta, says that you have a greater chance of getting hit by a coconut, having identical quadruplets, opening a four-number combination lock on the first try, becoming president of the United States, and several other highly unlikely events.  The Las Vegas Sun adds to that picking a perfect NCAA bracket and being attacked by a shark.  You will more likely die from contact with a venomous animal or plant, die from a mountain lion attack in California, contract mad cow disease, die from contact with hot tap water, or become canonized by the Catholic Church than win this lottery (information via nsc.org, lasvegassun.com, usatoday.com, and myfoxatlanta.com).

In a radio interview, however, one man said, “You owe it to yourself to” get in on this action.  While I believe a strong ethical case can be made to show that gambling is inappropriate, consider the mentality of this man as the underlying problem of which gambling and the lottery are but a symptom.  Buying a ticket may give a person a temporary feeling of hope and euphoria, but they are investing in the wrong place in order to get that feeling.  Though a relatively small percentage will claim that buying lottery tickets is harmless fun, a form of entertainment from which they expect no “payoff,” and no different than buying a movie ticket or ticket to a ball game, most who buy really want to win.  Statistics say that the largest percentage of patrons of gambling games like the lottery are society’s poorest.  About 10 years ago, Emily Oster, then a student at Harvard, wrote her Senior Honors Thesis on the theme, “Dreaming Big: Why Do People Play the Powerball?”  The thesis has been picked up by financial blogs and magazines and shared by other elite universities like Dartsmouth. She found “that the poorest zip codes purchase more tickets at the lowest levels. However, at the highest jackpots the sales are about the same (slightly over $16 per capita in the poorest zip codes and around $17 per capita in the richest)” (Oster 40).  Statistics assert that America’s poor spend anywhere from 3%-9% of their income on lottery tickets.

Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).  Does that mean that lower income or middle income people can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches?  Of course not!  Job disclaimed with horror the idea that he might put his confidence and trust in gold (31:24).  The warning of Scripture seems to be against putting your hope and trust in the monetary.

We do owe ourselves something very vital.  We owe it to ourselves to build a relationship with God, to trust Him and hope in Him.  We owe it to ourselves to invest in that heavenly land where we will realize a return the likes of which earth cannot reproduce.  That means laying up treasure in heaven (cf. Mat. 6:19-21).  Let’s make sure we do that!

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