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% of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.
A prime example is yesterday’s Powerball jackpot. Two people became instant multimillionaires from a voluntary transfer of wealth from their fellow citizens. The money came from the 563 million tickets that were sold, as the old adage says, to those who are bad at math.
The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would have 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. Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor: