Should a Catholic buy lottery tickets? Is it a sin? But what if I win? Think of all the good things that I could do and all the people I could help.
Let’s look at the lottery from a secular point of view and then we’ll look at it from a Catholic perspective.
This summer we have seen several different lotteries reach all-time highs. Mega Millions was worth over a billion dollars million and people were standing in line to buy tickets. When they finally got to the front of the line, they were tempted by all those other lotteries paying big money.
Logically, your odds of winning are abysmally low. You have a 1 in 259 million chance of winning Mega Ball. For Powerball the odds are 1 in 292 million. Your chances are much better for getting struck by lightning (1 in 13,500); dying in a car accident (1 in 645); being a victim of identity theft by the age of 40 (1 in 6); getting bitten by a dog while out for a jog (1 in 133); or even getting a hole-in-one on your birthday (1 in 25,000).
The average American buys $200 of lottery tickets per year. If you live in Massachusetts you will average $735 per year!
What about the scratch-off tickets? They’re easier to win, right? A survey was done by a company that bought $1,000 of scratch-off tickets. Their winning average was 22% and they won $974; their winnings did not even cover the $1,000 they spent buying tickets.
If you are one of the lucky people who win the lottery, you may be in the 70% of winners who end up broke in just 7 years, and many go broke much faster than that. There is a very small percentage of lottery winners who actually do quite well with their winnings, but your odds of doing well are almost as bad as your odds of winning.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has truth-in-advertising laws that prevent advertisers from making false claims about the benefits of their products. That’s why you see so much long legal language on ads for auto leasing, and why there is a long list of potential side effects on ads for drugs. State Lotteries are exempt from the FTC truth in advertising laws so don’t believe everything the lottery commercials tell you!
Let’s look at the lotteries from a spiritual perspective. What does the Bible say about playing the lottery?
1 Timothy 6:9-10 tells us, “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.”
Based on this verse, playing the lottery, focusing on accumulating or winning money and getting rich can lead to spiritual suicide. The Catechism has a section for our examination of conscience prior to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. One of the questions we are to ask ourselves is: “Have I squandered money on gambling?”
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 we read The Parable of the Talents. In this parable, Matthew goes to great lengths to describe a faithful steward who was responsible for managing the owner’s funds. A steward must be trustworthy. A steward doesn’t waste or foolishly spend the property they are administering. Wasting money would include playing the lottery in hopes of becoming rich.
Everything we have comes from God—it all belongs to him. Our job is to be a good steward of all the blessings God has given to us, which means managing our possessions wisely in a way that honors God.
Who do you really love, money or God? If you are looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, you are focused on money. Gamblers, which includes lottery players, typically covet money and the things that money can buy.
God forbids covetousness: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17; see also 1 Timothy 6:10).
One of the world’s lies is that money is the answer to life’s problems. People are lured into playing the lottery with promises that their lives will improve if they can only hit the jackpot. If they can just get lucky with the numbers, their problems will disappear. Such thoughts are empty promises. (see Ecclesiastes 5:10–15). “The covetous are never satisfied with money, nor lovers of wealth with their gain.”
If you think playing the lottery is just a form of entertainment, be cautious! There are many better ways to spend your money and more intelligent forms of entertainment.
Once we start playing just for fun it could eventually become more than just fun. It could become an addiction, especially if you play the same numbers each week. You become caught in a “what if” trap. “What if the week I don’t play is the week my special numbers win?” Buying a lottery ticket here and there is not a sin, but greed is. If you play the lottery on a regular basis, you should prayerfully examine your motives. But we would encourage you not to do it at all!
Wealth and possessions by themselves are meaningless unless they can be used to serve the Lord’s purposes. “The Lord grieves over the rich because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods.” Luke 6:24
King Solomon was in a position to know whether money would bring true fulfillment. He was one of the richest people in the world, yet his conclusion about riches was, “Useless, useless . . . it is all useless!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8) Nothing, not even winning the Mega Millions lottery can replace the value of our relationship with the Lord.
Are you sacrificing a close relationship with Christ in the pursuit of wealth?
Join us on the Compass Catholic podcast for more about why playing the lottery is not in your best interest.