When it comes to government programs for redistributing income, nothing is quite as malevolently effective as state lotteries. Every year state lotteries redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans (who spend between 4-9 percent of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.
A prime example is the Powerball jackpot. The largest jackpot in U.S. history—now an estimated $700 million—will be available this Saturday. But even if someone wins this time around, millions of Americans will have lost.
The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would won. The chances of a single ticket holder winning the Powerball were only slightly higher than meeting a random stranger on the street who hands you a million dollars.
Yet despite the harm it does to our financially vulnerable neighbors, Christians—who are called to seek justice for the poor—often participate and encourage this activity. Even more disconcerting is that the state not only allows, but participates, in this exploitation.
In an article for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor:
Public polling has confirmed the fears of many who oppose such government-promoted gambling: the poorest among us are contributing much more to lottery revenues than those with higher incomes. One poll found that people who played the lottery with an income of less than $20,000 annually spent an average of $46 per month on lottery tickets. That comes out to more than $550 per year and it is nearly double the amount spent in any other income bracket.
The significance of this is magnified when we look deeper into the figures. Those with annual incomes ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 had the second-highest average — $24 per month, or $288 per year. A person making $20,000 spends three times as much on lottery tickets on average than does someone making $30,000. And keep in mind that these numbers represent average spending. For every one or two people who spend just a few bucks a year on lotteries, others spend thousands.