In praise of the National Lottery?

When the United Kingdom initiated its national lottery in 1994 (imaginatively called the National Lottery), it was accompanied by much tsk-tsk-ing at church. Here was another sign of national decadence, further proof that Babylon was in control of the land. Good Mormons would eschew such evil, etc.

That’s how I left it when I went on my mission in 1995. When I returned, one of the new developments in my town was a shiny new refurbishment of the theatre. The theatre had once been the home of George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar’s Malvern Festival, but had since lost some of that lustre. Now it had a new foyer and looked beautiful, all paid for via a grant from the National Lottery. Malvern Theatre is now one of the best provincial theatres in the country.

If you spend £1 on a National Lottery game, 50 pence (p) goes to prizes, 28p to ‘good causes’, 12p is tax, 5p goes to retailers, 4.5p is for operating costs and 0.5p is profit for the operator. ‘Good causes’ typically refers to arts and sport and so far around £30 billion has been distributed. The National Lottery has now become the main engine for such funding in the UK.

When I was a kid, Britain was a very different place than it is now. You expected regional theatres to be a bit manky and sporting success was sporadic. There was no money for such things and Margaret Thatcher was not going to provide it. Forward to 2012: Britain is taking names and kicking a*se at the Olympic Games. 22 golds and 48 medals (so far) is our best haul in the modern era. Some of that is due to being host, but if you compare it with pre-lottery Barcelona (5 golds, 20 medals) you begin to see the effect of lottery funding on sport in the UK.

Take British cycling, the recipient of millions of pounds of lottery funding. Nine golds were available on the track, “Team GB” won seven. Consider also Bradley Wiggins’ triumph in the Tour de France and the Time Trial. That’s the product of hard work and talent for sure, but also money, lots of it. The National Lottery provides much of that money.

As I see my British Mormon friends celebrate British sporting success on FB, I wonder if they are aware that they are unconsciously celebrating the National Lottery. The lottery represents a voluntary tax for the benefit of arts and sport and the colossal funds it raises means that it is an effective way of distributing this money. Yes, half of the money goes to the prize fund, but the high prizes are necessary to ensure participation. One might argue that if I directly donated 28p to sporting non-profits this would be better, but human nature being what it is, people are much more likely to donate 28p if they think they might win £1 million.

Conclusion: if you want to support the arts and sport in the UK, you could do worse than to play the National Lottery.

I am aware, of course, of this statement from the Handbook:

Gambling and Lotteries

The Church opposes gambling in any form, including government-sponsored lotteries.


  1. For comparison, I looked at the Maryland Lottery (which I remember from my time in Baltimore). It’s more generous: 30% goes to “state-funded programs”.

  2. Just trying to get some concrete numbers about funding for elite cycling. Nothing yet, but according to British Cycling, “The GB Cycling Team has developed into a world-leading force since the advent of Lottery funding in 1998.” The elite teams are funded by UK Sport (a government agency) and the National Lottery. The former distributes funds from the latter, so it’s clear how important a role the lottery plays.

  3. RJH, timely and thought-provoking. I have two responses. The first is what I anticipate most British members of the church might argue in response to your comments: to be sure there would certainly be some initial dissonance in response to the association you make between the lottery and our victories. Yet I suspect that many would value sporting success less than the supposed ills that a lottery creates and I would anticipate that they would downplay the direct effect of the money on our success. I think these are weak points but they are difficult to refute.

    The second thought is my own: I am not convinced that lotteries are a voluntary choice. At least, the situation appears to be a little more complex. The UK actively encourages people to gamble and most often this encouragement preys on the wishful thinking of those who are already struggling with economic scarcity. Moreover, such encouragement surely leads some to indulge in what might become excessive, even addictive, behaviour. It is difficult to put a discrete measure on these costs but I am not sure – even while they are ambiguous – that I would trade the compounding of poverty over these Olympic victories.

    Yet, the murkiness of these issues will still allow me celebrate the success of my fellow compatriots.

  4. Aaron, are there data on the effects of lottery participation on gambling addiction? My feeling is that the lottery works more like a big raffle than wasting £50 on betting.

    And if there are social ills created by the lottery I suspect even Mormons would conveniently ignore them if it creates feel-good sporting success and pays for nice theatres.

    In other words, we are bad at properly thinking through these things.

  5. P.S. I am going to do my bit for British Cycling by buying a lottery ticket this week!

  6. Data (from Camelot mind you, so buyer beware):

    – In 2009, The National Lottery accounted for approximately 6% of the UK gambling market. This compares with 63% spent at bookmakers and 12% on gaming machines.
    – 70% of the UK adult population regularly plays National Lottery games with the average spend per player at £3.15.
    – The UK National Lottery is the sixth largest in the world terms of sales but it ranks 64th in terms of per capita spend.
    – In 2008, fewer than 0.8% of calls to the Gamcare helpline related to draw-based games and only 2% related to Scratchcards.
    – Problem gamblers account for just 1% of people playing draw-based games in the UK, and just 1.9% of Scratchcard players. This compares with 14.7% of players involved in spread betting.

    This conforms to my expectations. People know that winning the lottery is ridiculously unlikely and so spending a fortune on tickets is silly, whereas betting and other games offer better chances of success and therefore attract higher risks. This is not to minimise the pain of those who are gambling addicts as a result of the National Lottery, but it seems that the numbers are very, very low. £3.15 is a reasonable spend on a game (88p of which helps produce gold medals!); people don’t spend only £3.15 on the horses. Thus, apples and oranges.

    I would therefore categorise the National Lottery in the UK as fairly low-risk, and given the returns for sport and the arts, it might be a net social good and one which Mormons are currently celebrating.

    Remember, I get paid to raise these kinds of ethical issues!

  7. PrickKicker says:

    Any chance of a breakdown of where tithing goes? How about all the people in poverty that pay into that? Come on people open your minds, try to look beyond the veil of short sightedness. Lol.

  8. Troll.

  9. There is some good evidence to suggest that scratchcards and lotteries can be addictive and that these forms of gambling are associated with particular types of mental illness. I do not think the evidence is incontrovertible but it is there.

    I agree that we are bad at thinking through these things and that Mormons would – like most people conveniently ignore these issues. Your post is excellent precisely because it has helped me think more carefully about the processes at work here.

  10. PrickKicker says:

    Think of it more as a donation, then it’s not gambling.

  11. Aaron,
    I wonder why the UK lottery experience seems to be more benign . . .?

    Indeed. My ticket on Saturday is my contribution to Bradley Wiggins. And if I win the jackpot — BONUS!

  12. Ronan, if that is accurate, then 1% of 70% would suggest that ~438,000 people are problem gamblers and are likely playing the lottery. That is a fairly large number. This is not to say that the Lottery created those people but that it certainly contributes toward exacerbating it.

    Again, I do not disagree that the lottery may be fairly low-risk in terms of addiction and other forms of gambling but there is still a consequence that is worth factoring into the equation.

    More important, from my perspective, is the poverty argument. The lottery can be read as a regressive tax.

  13. 438,000 problem gamblers vs. x people inspired into sport and the arts.

    That’s the delicious ethical equation here.

  14. (438,000 problem gamblers + compounded poverty) vs. x people inspired into sport and the arts.

    But, yeah…

  15. Thanks for shining a light on my hypocrisy – turning my nose up at the office lottery syndicate while spending every night this past week and a half with Gabby Logan and co.

    This is just my perception, so feel free to disregard, by I would suppose that the majority of those who play the lottery are ‘working class’ for want of a better term, while the examples you cite of lottery-funded projects (theatres, olympic events, esp. rowing, cycling) are more ‘middle class’ in nature. It’s not that the working class are denied access, but I would imagine that the participants in these more visible projects are more middle England. It would be nice to see how much of the 28p goes into projects in the most deprived areas of of the UK, because I would guess that a good-sized proportion of tickets and scratch cards are bought in our poorest communities. Needless to say I wasn’t thinking about any of this on Golden Saturday.

  16. I think you’re over-doing the lottery-as-engine-of-poverty thing, but yeah…!

    Anyway, the point remains: let’s take your most pessimistic reading of the lottery as true — should those who oppose the lottery refuse to celebrate those sportspeople whose success is in large point dependent on that lottery? Seems to me that it is hypocrisy to do otherwise.

    I always prod my father on this. He’s an old school Mormon lottery hater but happily enjoys the theatre in Malvern. I tell him he should boycott this product of filthy lucre. Same goes for the amazing reading room in the British Museum and a gazillion other things that wouldn’t be there without the lottery.

    I realise life is full of such contradictions, but its fun to point them out nonetheless.

  17. I dunno, gomez, Take a look at the Big Lottery Fund. It’s a Guardianistas orgy of worthy causes. I have only pointed out the lottery benefits to elite sport and the arts. There’s much, much more.

    And yes, you are a hypocrtite! Please tell me you don’t also refuse school raffles?

  18. I refuse school raffles because the prize is usually a bottle of wine. It’s compound sin. Either that or it’s because I’m tight.

  19. I mean, look at this beauty:

    “Disengaged and disruptive young people in High Wycombe are starting to turn their lives around with help from a Big Lottery Fund grant of £9,000. Street Dreams used the funding to run sessions with local young people, showing them how to repair and restore unwanted furniture.”

    Virtuous, lovely, and of good report, if you ask me, especially because if the lottery doesn’t fund it, no-one else will.

    And what about the church’s encouragement of conspicuous consumption and shopping/credit addiction at City Creek Mall?

    Losers, winners, parks, shopping malls, sweat shops, gold medals, street urchins restoring used furniture in High Wycombe, people cycling to work, theatres, lottery addicts, GOLD MEDALS, etc. Complicated.

  20. gomez,
    Then you should enter the raffle, win the wine, and pour it away. Social good!

  21. Oh, I’ve no doubt there are a lot of worthy causes in deprived areas funded by the 28p. I think it would be interesting to see a study on the demographics of lottery players versus lottery funding beneficiaries. Because right now my perception is that the poor are funding the extracurricular activities of the more affluent (gross generalisation). Like I say, that’s just a perception – and I’d be happy to have it proved wrong.

  22. I usually give such ‘gifts’ to my brother. Which causes some cognitive dissonance among my kids.

  23. gomez,
    I would also like to see that study but we’re veering into pious territory here. My original point is that the dissonance caused by poor people going against the LDS Church Handbook and walking like zombies to spend all their money on lottery tickets is ignored even by Mormons who see British GOLD GOLD GOLD!

  24. Sure. And that’s a point well made which has given me pause.

  25. ben orchard says:

    Let’s talk about some other issues then. I’m seeing numbers of lottery participants in an area where (I presume) other forms of gambling are also available. In contrast, in the USA, in many places the lottery is the ONLY form of legalized gambling.

    I worked briefly at a convenience store, where I saw the same people buying $20-$30 worth of tickets every day. Anecdotal, true, but it was clear to me that they had an addiction. It was also obvious that it was to the neglect of other areas of their life–their clothes were shoddy, their cars in ill-repair, and whatnot. Do I know their whole story, one that would allow me to make sense of their spending habits? Hardly. But it seems to me that the lottery acts as a tax on those who are bad at math and rational decision making.

    In terms of cost-benefit, the lottery MUST have a terrible ratio if all you consider is the probability of winning the grand prize. Other potential benefits can be weighed accordingly, but that’s all ad-hoc, since you can’t know at the time of purchase what specific ‘good cause’ that portion of your lottery ticket price will go to. Meaning that in terms of rational decision making you are taking about a very abstract potential benefit. Yes a specific theater may have benefited in the past from lottery funds (same with Olympic sportsmen), but it’s unlikely that the same theater will benefit again in the near future, so you can’t say that a current purchase is useful for the theater.

    Is it murky? Yes. I still think, personally, that my own money is better spent on other activities.

  26. Ben,
    Two points:
    1. No-one is saying that you should do the lottery.
    2. The UK experience seems to be different to the American one.

    And to the OP: if you decry the lottery, you (if you are a British Mormon) have to pause, at least for a few moments, to consider your own reaction to sports, arts, and community funding in the UK.

  27. Just heard a little boy on FiveLive talking about how much he was “inspired by Bradley Wiggins.” And I thought, what has this nation come to, celebrating these lottery whores!

  28. Peter LLC says:

    Sounds like success is a function of being on the dole–put these gold medals/TdF win in your pipe and smoke ’em!

  29. Peter LLC says:

    [directed at the welfare haters, of course]

  30. I just dropped off my son at pre-k, which is entirely funded by the state lottery- we only have to pay 100/month for his food (he’s not allowed to bring sack lunches). It’s been a great program, I’ve been tempted to buy lottery tickets just to feel like I’m contributing to it.
    I’ve never once bought a lottery ticket, but I don’t see anything wrong with it- moderation in all things. I’ve thought it would be fun, just to dream for a day or two of what we would do with the money (pay off all my families mortgages).

  31. And then I saw Sir Chris Hoy on the telly with those gold medals and I thought, how many poor council estate single mothers have paid for those, eh, Sir Chris?

  32. Peter LLC says:

    consider your own reaction to sports, arts, and community funding in the UK.

    “You didn’t build that.”

  33. NewlyHousewife says:

    In Missouri 26.4 cents for every dollar spent is used for public schools. This roughly equals to 4% of the budget for public schools. My only guilt is that the lottery self-funds a scholarship program called ‘A+’ (do 10 hours of community service for a semester in high school, have decent grades, go to a community college tuition-free) of which I took part in. Sometimes I feel like a freeloader, since I haven’t bought a lottery ticket, other times I try not to think about it.

    I don’t know how the percentages work out for other programs that claim to help public schools, but I doubt it would come anywhere close to the lottery amount. 2008 was apparently a big year (no brainer) and ended with $280 million being donated.

    Personally, I think gambling is just like food,shoes,and RS: good in moderation.

  34. NewlyHousewife says:

    My comment is apparently in moderation….

  35. “…and RS”.


  36. J. Stapley says:

    I really enjoyed reading the post and comments. I read with a British accent and it was sort of like BBC, but Mormon and cooler.

  37. Here in the great Land Down Under, we have a series of infocomedy panel programs called Gruen (Something) that looks at the dirty side of advertising aspects of various events. Tonight it ran its weekly The Pitch section (where two ad agencies compete to create an ad that ‘sells the unsellable’) with a theme of cutting of all funding to the Australian Olympic Team.
    The ads were great but what surprised me was that the Australian governments spend $650 milllion a year on elite sports training and development. As one of the ads pointed out, the cost of training one rower (who famously gave up and stopped rowing half way through her Olympic final) would have been the equivalent of paying for the training of all of the elite doctors and nursing staff and buying all of the equipment needed to complete a full heart lung transplant. There’s something a little wrong about the priorities there.
    A lot of that funding comes direct, but an equal amount from National Lotteries style programs in each state. The benefits that comes from the Lotto are great but I would much prefer a system of direct taxation where expenditure was more tightly controlled by Government interests rather than private philanthropy boards

  38. In Finland, all gambling — horses, slot machines, casinos, lotteries — is operated by state-owned monopoly and the profits are distributed to various charities. I don’t have a problem with this set-up, except that the monopoly advertises their gambling as patriotic and socially responsible, which I suppose on some level it is.

  39. PrickKicker says:

    Should I feel guilty, I have 2 kidneys?
    Should I feel guilty, I bought a ticket instead of a chocolate bar?
    Should I feel guilty, I didn’t contribute it to tithing so it could help pay for the gold leafing on the chair legs of the celestial room?

  40. Haven’t read the comments at this point.

    I’d just like to make it known that Enron was a massive charitable contributor. In fact heavy involvement in charities is one of the hallmark characteristics of corporations that have a systematic culture of corruption and ethics violations.

    It’s how they try to justify themselves and make themselves more palatable for public consumption. It’s the same reason the Sicilian Mafia is so popular (and why the Mafia was always popular in the neighborhoods it had a grip on). They are overflowing with charitable works and concern for the little guy. On the news right now, they are talking about how corruption has crippled Sicily’s economy and threatens to drag all Italy down with it. Bureaucratic corruption is rampant – half the jobs in Sicily are held in government by people incompetent to perform their jobs – but who got them due to patronage. And the public is OUTRAGED that Italy is trying to crack down on the corruption which they see as a infringement on their sovereignty and right to run things their own way.

    There’s a scene from a movie where a young troubled corporate star is under the tutelage of an utterly corrupt elder corporate executive. During one of their exchanges where the young man questions the ethics of some of the things the company is doing, the elder executive responds:

    “Every evening before I go to bed, I look at myself in the mirror and I ask myself if the good I’ve done during the day outweighs the bad. If it has – I sleep easy.”

    It’s a pretty creepy moral paradigm to be honest. You can get away with as much evil as you want to get away with – just so long as you offset it by visiting orphanages, and making grants to local universities. And incurably corrupt corporate cultures routinely invest heavily in charity work precisely in order to make the exact self-serving moral calculus the movie character made.

    In short RJH – I don’t really give a toss what the British government is spending the lottery money on. I don’t care if they’re spending it to save babies and promote world peace. It’s still corrupt and dirty money earned off preying upon the stupidity and vile impulses of human nature.

    And the fact it’s going to charities is also quite irrelevant. What if the British government was using the gambling money to fund their naval forces – which then freed up money elsewhere in the British government to send to hospitals, orphanages, and what have you? Would the gambling money look so lovely paying for ammunition rather than care packages?

    But it’s all the same, isn’t it? Because the British national budget is a lump sum and it makes little sense to draw trivial distinctions like “well THIS money went to fund scholarships for poor high school grads, and THIS money went to the Air Force, and THIS money went…” It all goes to the same place – the national budget.

    And the source of this money is dirty. No image-branding campaign changes that.

  41. Now a National Lottery where the prize is exemption from all or a portion of income, property, and/or sales taxes for the year. There’s a lottery I could get behind without murkiness because there technically isn’t any “income from gambling.”

  42. Good luck, RJH. Let’s hope your Lottery ticket is a winner. Have fun explaining that one to your bishop!

    Here in New York, the lottery was supposed to put the numbers rackets out of business. But the state can’t compete with the odds from the mob–that 30 cents or whatever to “worthy causes” makes too deep a dent in the payouts.

    But now we have the state in the dirty business of promoting stupidity–because, seriously, only an idiot would play a game with such a ridiculously low probability of success. Better to head off to Belmont and bet on the ponies.

    So, weigh the good works done with the state’s take against the evil done by preying on the uneducated. Who wins? The lottery machine manufacturers.

    One irony is that much of the state’s take is spent on “education.” But we’re obviously doing such a lousy job teaching mathematics to New York’s schoolchildren that a new crop of potential lottery players graduates every year.

  43. Jeremy Jensen says:

    The government should not be enabling gambling addiction, and even if you accept the idea that it’s a “voluntary tax,” it is an extremely regressive tax that thrives, at least in part, on the deluded dreams of poverty stricken people. It is morally abhorrent. That’s why I’m opposed to it. Government programs should be funded using other forms of taxation. In the US, I particularly favor raising taxes on investment income.

  44. Peter LLC says:

    But we’re obviously doing such a lousy job teaching mathematics …

    For what it’s worth, the siren call of easy money clouds even the best minds. When I asked my mathematically-astute thesis advisor why he played, he replied that it was “fun.”

  45. >Have fun explaining that one to your bishop!

    Mark, if I were to win several million pounds, that would be the least of my worries.

  46. PrickKicker says:

    A wise man I once knew told a rich man to sell everything he owned and follow him… I’m sure that same man would have a hissy-fit like he did in the temple once… If he saw the property / finance portfolio of the Lds church. He also told a story about a widow compared to a wealthy man. Read it someday.

  47. I think whether a lottery provides a lot of the ‘extra’ benefits Ronan describes depends to a large degree on the fiscal restraint or lack thereof of the legislators. For example, here in California the lottery was pitched back in 1984 as a mechanism to provide *supplemental* funds for education. The reality today is that the lottery funds are essential for educational solvency–a far cry from supplemental.

  48. To add a similar occurrence: in New Mexico, the lottery makes so much money that they established a scholarship fund for any NM high school graduate to attend a public university, as long as they maintain a 2.5 grade point average (very achievable). Lots of families in my home ward struggled with whether it would be bad to take advantage of that scholarship even though it comes from, as Seth R points out, “dirty” money.

  49. Well Ben P, as I also pointed out – all the money goes to the same place – the government budget.

    So I think these families would be faced with the exact same dilemma if the scholarship funds were being billed as coming from property tax, or cigarette sales tax, or or state oil royalties, or whatever else.

    The fact that the government uses lottery money to offset its expenses taints the entire operation, not just the portion that is superficially billed as coming from the lottery.

  50. You know, if you really want to fund community projects, have the government sell marijuana at reasonable prices. The recreational users could clearly provide enough funds for a lot of theatres and sporting teams beside caring for the small number of addicts, AND, it would help break the back of the drug cartels! Everyone wins!

    Don’t quibble over the lottery — think big!

  51. Man, I am SO not ready to joke about marijuana. So I’ll ignore that last comment. Interesting ideas about lotteries, which I won’t engage right now. I just want to say that I love the way RJH makes “arse” acceptable by eliminating the R. “a*se.” I am going to look for opportunities to do likewise.

  52. Steve Sluder says:

    Definition for Peter LLC: Lotteries… retirement plans for people who are REALLY bad at math.

  53. I think we need to give lottery-contributors a little more credit. Sure some of them are idiots, but for many of them, the lottery is just a ticket to hope/dream or be a part of something. I’ve been tempted to buy a ticket myself, knowing full well I won’t win, but because I support the causes the lottery gives to, and because it’s worth a couple bucks to dream for a few days. IT can be harmless fun. If people get just as much entertainment out of it as they might for going to a movie (which is hardly an investment)… well, I don’t see the harm in it. Let people use their recreation funds as they will, and if some of those funds get turned around and used for good- great!
    I suspect our own aversion to gambling and other temporal laws has to do with the “weak/weakest of saints” (D&C 89:3)- if we didn’t suck at moderation it wouldn’t be a problem.

  54. The church may oppose gambling in any form but they do not oppose tithing and fast offerings from those who work in the gaming industry including several faithful LDS in top tier management positions in Las Vegas. Used to be if you worked in the industry you could not hold a temple recommend. Guess when the church saw how lobbyists and politicians earn their ill gotten gains tithing from a faithful LDS member who happened to deal hands of poker or 21 wasn’t so bad.

  55. Margaret, I wasn’t exactly joking. My friends and acquaintances have given me the impression that for most people, marijuana can be harmless fun — they all seem to have turned out okay. Drug cartels make a ton of money selling the stuff, though, and the corruption they sow seems to me to be a greater national security risk than Islamic terrorism. There’s a strong argument there to legalize drugs. Gambling has likewise been legalized, but since it’s viewed as vice, we limit it (mostly to tribal lands) and make sure the government gets a big cut of the profits. State lotteries are only a quarter-step from that.

    Marijuana certainly has more affect on a psyche than does purchasing a lotto ticket, but the difference between the government selling marijuana and lottery tickets seems to be a matter of degree more than anything. You could probably do a study to determine whether enough revenue could be generated to provide for addiction treatment and still realize substantial profits. It may actually be practical — cost effective and potentially leading to the greater good.

    The danger is that since we think that morality always leads to the greater good, we decide that if we calculate that something has good results, it’s therefore got to be moral. That’s a slippery slope, and I think Mormons are particularly prone to this kind of thinking. To me, there’s only a small step between saying “yeah, lotteries raise revenue primarily from the working class, but they don’t mind and actually enjoy it” and saying “yeah, lotteries take money from the working class, but they’d probably just spend their money on cigarettes or alcohol or some other pointless self-destructive vice anyway”.

    Calculating the greater good is fraught with peril, which is why I feel we have morality in the first place — because we’re not good at factoring in everything that’s important. Too bad God didn’t make what’s moral perfectly clear.

  56. I meant no sarcasm in that last sentence, by the way. I don’t think He’s made everything perfectly clear.

  57. No doubt about it, government lotteries fund a lot of worthwhile programs. But I’d argue that if the programs are worthwhile for the government to do, they are worth taxing for — and having everybody pay, not just the folks who fall for the trap of making want amounts to a government-encouraged awful investment.

  58. MikeInWeHo says:

    Maybe things look differently in the UK, but on this side of the pond Jeremy nails it in comment 43. It’s always troubling to see news reports on “lotto fever” days, and realize the people queuing up are the least able to afford the tickets. The people interviewed dream of a more affluent life, and it only slips further away for most of them. Lottery sales have gone up as economic mobility has gone down.

    I remember years ago my friends and I used to call the lottery “the stupid tax.” We were a bit smug, truth be told.

  59. MikeInWeHo — that is the issue that has come up in Australia as rebates intended to help people cover increased energy expenses are going directly into poker machines.

  60. Antonio Parr says:

    Ronan: Sorry, but gambling is immoral, and governments who sponsor lotteries must either abandon their misguided method of raising income or watch the collapse that results from the decay of their moral foundation. (In light of this fact, I am willing to bet that the Church’s position with respect to state-sponsored lotteries will remain unchanged over the next ten years. I’ll give you 2-1 odds, winner take all. Contact me off-line if interested. All bets must be in my midnight tonight, US EDT)

  61. I am uncomfortable with state-sponsored gambling, but for those saying it is immoral can you shed a little light please? What exactly is immoral about it?

  62. Jeremy Jensen says:

    It’s immoral because it exploits people’s poverty and greed and siphons wealth from said people to large corporations. It destroys families. Other questionable practices, such as prostitution, go hand-in-hand with gambling. Finally, our church leaders have strongly counseled against it.

  63. MikeInWeHo says:

    Lotteries are immoral because they exploit the poor. There has been a lot of research. Maybe it’s different in England (although I doubt it), in the U.S. that posh lottery-refurbished theatre would have been financed by the poorest people in society. I’m a little surprised by you on this one, Ronan.

  64. For a religion that believes in free agency, we sure do worry a lot about people with the ability to choose freely being “exploited”. These are adults who can make their own decisions. Call it a waste of money, sure, but unless the lottery is lying about odds or forcing people to buy tickets at gun point, it’s not exploitation. It enables waste of money, but then, so do the stores in poor neighborhoods that sell fancy car rims, shoes that cost 200 dollars, and fancy purses (all items that abounded at the title-1 minority school district my husband taught at). Dumb? Sure. Immoral? Not so much.
    Come to think of it, you know what else enables a waste of money? Tiffany and Porsche stores.

  65. I have to agree with Jenn (64) on this. I think the concept of exploitation is being stretched beyond what it can reasonably be expected to hold in this conversation. Horrendous waste of money? Yes. Horrendously immoral? I can’t agree.

  66. I think that it’s a tax against people who don’t know math, or have good disposable income, but compared to spending the money drinking or on drugs it’s got a better end result. Just because we are against playing it doesn’t mean that it can’t pay for the things we enjoy. That’s my thought anyway. :) Great post!

  67. MikeInWeHo says:

    “….so do the stores in poor neighborhoods that sell fancy car rims, shoes that cost 200 dollars, and fancy purses…”

    Fair enough, but the state isn’t in those businesses. I think it’s arguable that state lotteries are different from normal businesses.

  68. Jeremy Jensen says:

    I don’t buy the idea that people get addicted to rims and jewelry in the same way they get addicted to gambling. Secondly, rims and jewelry aren’t sold to poor people as the solution to all their problems. Thirdly, you actually GET something for your money when you buy rims and jewelry. You don’t get anything when you gamble. Comparing gambling to luxury items is a tenuous connection at best.

  69. I wasn’t talking about state involvement, just merely what we consider moral/immoral. After all, mormons abhor ALL forms of gambling, not just state-sponsored.
    And as a religious guideline, it makes sense- as I said earlier, many of our temporal guidelines from the church are because of “the weakest of saints” (D&C 89:3)- we (as in, all mortals) stink at moderation. I don’t think gambling is any less moral than drinking wine occasionally, or selling it- it becomes immoral when individuals CHOOSE to take it to an unhealthy level (personally, I AM a weak saint so I won’t touch the stuff- I know perfectly well my tendency to get addicted to destructive habits). If my mom’s group plays bingo once a month and half of them come home 30 bucks poorer but relaxed and happy, is that much more immoral than me going to a movie, spending 30 bucks, and coming home relaxed and happy? Could either recreational activity get carried away? Sure. Is either inherently immoral?

    Jeremy (#68)- my son also doesn’t go to a rim-and-jewelry-sponsored preschool, does he? Nope, I have the georgia lottery to thank for that.

    I wonder what percentage of lottery participants are “addicts”. I’m not talking casino gambling, but state-sponsored lottery. I’d venture it is a very VERY small percentage.

  70. Jeremy Jensen says:

    But, Jenn, you know well and good that your son’s preschool could be sponsored by a tax that’s not regressive and predatory. We can get rid of the regressive, predatory tax and replace it with a tax on the investment income of the wealthy people that destroyed our economy. Or increase taxes on harmful behaviors like smoking, drinking, etc. Why extract that money in a way that hurts poor people? You’re OK with impoverished people spending nine percent of their income on the lottery to avoid raising taxes on rich people?

  71. Considering my city just voted down a tax hike to pay for roads and can barely afford to pay teachers of k-12 (much less pre-k), I’m guessing they don’t quite have a surplus floating around for preschools.
    I’m not ok with impoverished people wasting money. But I also recognize their ability to make decisions for themselves. Frankly, if they are that poor and are the type to waste money on lottery, if they had that 9% of money back, they’d probably waste it on something else. Fortunately, it’s not my place to make that decision for them.

  72. I remember one night my wife and I passed a young couple with dirty clothes and a baby in a stroller in front of the drug store. One says to the other, “We have five dollars left. Do you want to buy diapers with it or some lotto tickets?”

  73. Yoy! People think I am hyperbolic? This thread has hysterical pregnancy.

  74. In general, tax policy people don’t like using lotteries, rather than tax income, to fund government programs. This article (by a U.S. state tax guy) explains why; basically, he says (as several people have pointed out), lotteries are an extremely regressive method of raising government revenue, and it preys on the addicted and those who can least afford to lose.

    I agree that funding athletics and art is laudable, and certainly something that the government should support. But lotteries aren’t the way to do it. If politicians and the public value these servicies, they should enact broad-based taxes to support them.. Using lotteries is a way of hiding the cost of the services, and harmful at that.

  75. Jenn, your remarks remind me of a scripture passage:

    And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
    Alma 30: 17

    So I guess if the poor are too stupid to get it, they’re pretty much fair game for systematic exploitation, right?

  76. The house always wins.

    Fwiw, even though I loathe the regressive tax nature of lotteries, I would have slightly less trouble with state-sponsored lotteries if they weren’t accompanied by sophisticated advertising campaigns to convince people to play those lotteries – by spending money on them that would be used for something else that often is of much more beneficial to the spender.

    In two jobs I had years ago, I saw people buy tickets rather than save for kids’ shoes that didn’t have holes or provide three meals a day for their children. All other benefits be damned; when a government is actively encouraging people to use their money in that way, knowing that many people literally are using their money in that way, I can’t support the effort.

  77. Steve Sluder says:

    For those who continue to believe that lotteries are a legitimate method of supporting schools, consider the lottery in the state of California. When the lottery began in 1985, it was lauded as a way to raise extra revenue for schools for things they couldn’t normally afford. In the first year that lottery funds were dispersed, there was enough money for many school districts to go on spending sprees. Districts spent their lottery funds on high tech, audio-visual equipment and computers (which were badly needed). It was all wonderful for a while until the state legislature decided to reduce the contribution to the state education budget from the general fund by the exact amount that the lottery was now providing. In other words, the lottery revenue became part of the general fund and schools were no longer provided with “extra” funds.

    In California, the lottery funds are distributed as follows: 50% goes to prizes, 34% to schools and 16% for lottery administration. 34% of the lottery revenue amounts to millions of dollars and sounds like a lot of money, but actually accounts for less than 2% of the state education budget. Having the 8th largest economy in the world, California’s budget is larger than most countries. If a state lottery in California can only contribute 2% to their state education budget, how much would a lottery really benefit a state like Utah? I would suggest that the ONLY regular winners in a state lottery are those companies who administer and manage the lotteries themselves.

    On a side note, the lottery in California came about as a result of a statewide referendum. A referendum is just a fancy way to legislate by taking a poll of the citizens. Now we all know how the folks at “By Common Consent” feel about polls…

  78. BJohnson says:

    Much has been said about the draw of lotteries on the minds of those least able both to afford them financially and to resist the false hopes that accompany them . But what about the fates of the winners? Every article and study I have seen indicates that within ten years over half of all big lottery winners are broke again. Not only does the lottery prey on the false hopes of the poor, but it also tends to give winnings to those least able to effectively manage and grow the resources they receive.

    Why? In my opinion, there is a disconnect between how people view “the rich” versus what “the rich” are actually like (in most cases).

    Ask ordinary Americans qued up for lottery tickets at a convenience store to describe what being a rich person is like. Very few of them will talk about the “millionaire next door” who quietly and diligently acquires considerable resources without advertising the fact to the world. By the way, the majority of millionaires are of this type. I suspect that most ordinary Americans, if asked to describe a rich person, will respond that a rich person is someone who has the money to stop working and to buy a lot of expense stuff. If they win big in the lottery, they will–surprise, surprise–stop working a buy a lot of expense stuff.

    Problem is that the “stuff” is not a sign of wealth, but of wealth that has been spent. The money lavished on the cars, TVs, jewelry and trips is now gone. Attempts to resell such items will only recoup a small fraction of what was spent, if anything. Even real estate purchases are not always wise (just ask someone who bought a house in early-2007). Further, the majority of actual “millionaires next door” are working professionals, business owners, and others who don’t fit into the image of the “idle rich.”

    I echo earlier sentiments that the lottery mainly benefits the large business and governmental interests running the operations. For the ordinary players, it provides no benefit to the losers and precious little in the way of life-changing benefits to the winners either.

  79. I’ve tried to read through all the comments and maybe I missed it somewhere but the primary reason for opposing gambling as a Christian is the spiritual damage that indulging can foster. I’m not talking about the development of addiction though that does exist and should be a concern. Instead, lotteries and all other forms of gambling are immoral simply because they encourage the belief in getting something for nothing. We move from an attitude of giving in service and earning through hard work, to taking without earning and gaining advantage over another by alternative means. There is a difference in the mind and heart of someone who has earned a dollar versus one who is simply given a dollar and that is how they value what was received. Tell me that those here who are parents do not see the difference in their own children and the challenge of instilling the value of earning your way.

    As Dallin Oaks stated back in his article on gambling in the Ensign in June 1987,

    Jesus taught us to give. He will even test our willingness to sacrifice all that we have in service to Him and to our fellowmen. Satan, the adversary, teaches men to take—forcibly if necessary, deviously if feasible, continuously if possible. Whatever encourages men to take from one another without giving value in return serves the cause of Satan.

    Gambling is a game of chance that takes without giving value in return. Gambling puts money or other things of value into a pool and then redistributes it on the basis of a roll of the dice, a spin of the wheel, or a drawing of a number. Nothing of value is produced in the process.

    What does gambling do to its participants? The attitude of taking something from someone else in order to enhance our own position—the essence of gambling—leads us away from the giving path of Christ and toward the taking path of the adversary. The act of taking or trying to take something from someone else without giving value in return is destructive of spiritual sensitivities.

  80. For the record, I am not exactly pro-lottery. I appreciate the church’s warnings against gambling and recognise its dangers. Mostly I am just amused by the fact that many of the people most against the UK lottery are simultaneously ecstatic over the sporting success it has bought. It’s interesting to point that out, no?

  81. Peter LLC says:

    It’s interesting to point that out, no?

    Indeed it is. Inspired by your post, I looked into Austria’s national lottery and discovered that it must by law contribute at least EUR 80 million annually to the bureaucracy that subsidizing sports. That’s a pretty big chunk of change when one considers that the country spent just EUR 5 million over the last 18 months on Olympic sports. The money’s failure to produce a medal winner means that at least Austrian members don’t have to feel conflicted about the source of its sporting successes.

  82. “I would have slightly less trouble with state-sponsored lotteries if they weren’t accompanied by sophisticated advertising campaigns to convince people to play those lotteries – by spending money on them that would be used for something else that often is of much more beneficial to the spender.”

    That’s it exactly. If the state is funding activities through lotteries, it is in the state’s interest that as many people gamble as possible. So they promote it.

  83. Lotteries are a scam. Public benefaction is the bribe for their acceptance:

  84. The Austrian mindset (or lack of) is the reason that there was no Olympic success. Quite simple. Perhaps lottery dosh (British or Austrian) could be donated to the upkeep of bikeshops. :))

  85. There’s always the Winter Olympics…