Thinking Out Loud

May 8, 2009

Lotteries: Winning Has a Price

Filed under: economics, ethics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm

lotteryA month ago The Toronto Star carried an article about a man who won the $14M (CDN) grand prize in a Canadian lottery and how his life since then has become increasingly complicated.   [see From Jolly Butcher to Disillusioned Millionaire.]    It’s a frequently echoed them among lottery winners.   One suspects that — like various other contests — coming in second or third might be a safer option.

Most people who read this blog are Christians, so the odds are — pun somewhat intended — that fewer of us actually play the lottery and therefore there isn’t a lot of connection or emotion attached to this particular topic.   It is, as Mrs. W. often says, “SEP;” which stands for “someone else’s problem.”

But when I read the story, I wrote a letter to the editor at The Star. Most bloggers have enough creative outlet online that writing letters to newspaper editors is probably considered somewhat passé.   I gotta admit, it takes a lot to get me worked up enough to write one.    However…

There needs to be a cap on lottery winnings.

Furthermore, you don’t have to play the lottery to be concerned about an issue like this.    Finally, you don’t have to feel that an issue like this abandons all connection to one’s faith.   If pharmacies are selling a pill that can be harmful, Christ-followers should be among the loudest calling for its withdrawl from the market.

Doing justice.   Loving mercy.    Protecting the weak.   Highlighting truth.   Warning the naive.   Helping the hurting.   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.   Forty people winning $350,000 instead of one winning $14M.    Changing the “we need big prizes to attract more players” mentality.   Being willing to temporarily set aside the addiction issue to address the fairness issue.

Here’s what I wrote:

Saturday’s front-page piece on lottery winner Jose Lima reinforces the need for there to be a cap on lottery winnings.  There is only so much one individual can enjoy before that same “good luck” turns into a negative force.

Lottery companies will insist that it’s the large amounts that attract players, but that’s simply how the public has been conditioned.    Clever marketers could just as easily stress the potential number of winners rather than the size of the big prize.    The charity lotteries have been doing that for years.

There hasn’t been a lottery ticket in our home for about fifteen years — and that one was a gift from a customer.   But I think you’re allowed to feel passionate about things affecting the larger society, even if they aren’t part of your personal routine.

If you got here from a “lottery” tag, you may have sensed already that this is one of those “Christian” blog pages.   Lottery ticket buying can definitely be a form of addictive behavior.   Don’t be afraid to get help if you need it.     Sometimes, it’s easy to think that the only hope for a change in our personal situation would be something like winning a lottery.    Christ-followers often don’t play the lottery, not because we’re more holy or more righteous, but because we’re learning to trust in God to meet our daily needs and help us through lean economic times.

We believe that God has revealed a lot of who he is and what he’s like in manifesting his presence here on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, who, while he was fully God, also lived here as fully human.    And we’re told in his human situation, he was “tempted in every way that we are.”   Hmmm.   Do you think Jerusalem had a lottery or a casino?


  1. Paul

    This is timely. The importance of “being light” very much includes letters to the editor.

    As for the topic, I grew up with parents who gave me a different reason to shun lotteries.

    Where does that prize money come from? Mostly from those addicted to gambling. I win the cost of the shoes the little girl needed. I win the car payment that was forfeited. I win the money that should have bought a boy a new bike for his birthday, or the grocery money for a struggling family. I win the money from those whose dream died with a ticket that resulted in nothing. I couldn’t bear the thought of profiting from someone else’s weakness…couldn’t enjoy the money!

    Thank you for being passionate!

    Comment by Cynthia — May 8, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    • Cynthia,

      Very well put. Reminds me of the first Evangelical voice I ever heard speak to this issue, Pat Robertson, who said, “Lotteries are a tax on the poor.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 8, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

  2. […] I also wrote on this topic in May of 2009.  At that point, I argued, as I still do, that there should be cap on lottery winnings.  Friday night’s $640,000,000 could just as easily been 2,000 prizes of $320,000; 4,000 […]

    Pingback by Would/Should Your Church Accept Lottery Winnings? « Thinking Out Loud — April 1, 2012 @ 7:54 am

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