The lottery

NASHVILLE — The Dec. 29 issue of FaithLink focuses on state and national lotteries that are attracting millions of players each year with increasingly large payouts. FaithLink discusses the benefits and problems lotteries present to winners, losers and society as a whole. The study guide looks at how Christian faith shapes our attitudes toward games of chance.

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FaithLink reports that government-sanctioned lotteries can be traced back a long way. For example, circa 200 b.c., Chinese emperor Cheung Leung raised lottery funds “to help finance fortifications and army provisions” and possibly for building parts of the Great Wall of China.

Forty-three states, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, run lotteries. Those few without lotteries are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

In addition, such games as Powerball and Mega Millions draw players from across state lines with the lure of potentially huge payouts reaching to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

‘Astonishingly long odds’

“More than half of us have played the lottery in the last year,” according to Cable News Network (CNN), “although 20% of customers buy the majority of the tickets.” In fiscal 2012, Americans spent around $78 billion playing lotteries.

More than half of us have played the lottery in the last year.

Since 1964, when New Hampshire launched the first modern state lottery, ticket sales have gone up every year, “even during the Great Recession,” reports CNNMoney, “when the sale of most other items declined.”

The popularity of lotteries, despite the “astonishingly long odds,” may be attributed to the entertainment value of fantasizing about what we’d do with a seven-digit payout, writes Mike Poteet, author of the FaithLink issue. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.

“You’re more likely to be attacked by a shark (one in 11.5 million) or die in a lightning strike (one in three million) than you are to win Powerball’s grand prize (one in 175,223,510), Poteet points out.

Negative consequences

Winning the lottery can have potentially negative consequences on the winners, according to Poteet’s research. “The instant influx of money, the unwanted attention it brings, and the internal emotional and psychological responses to winning can all create problems,” he finds.

In its 1999 report to Congress, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission observed, “The principal argument used in every state to promote the adoption of a lottery has focused on its value as a source of ‘painless’ revenue: players voluntarily spending their money — as opposed to the general public being taxed — for the benefit of the public good.” And some $19 billion has been raised for such purposes, Poteet reports.

Also, like any other gambling, the lottery carries addictive potential for some players, and others question the lottery’s impact on people in poverty. Poteet addresses the pros and cons on these issues.

United Methodist perspective

The United Methodist Church, however, in its 2012 Book of Resolutions and its Social Principles stands strongly against gambling.

United Methodist Resolution #4041 condemns all gambling as idolatry. “Gambling feeds on human greed and invites persons to place their trust in possessions rather than in God,” the resolution declares. “Gambling, as a means of acquiring material gain by chance and at the neighbor’s expense, is a menace to personal character and social morality.”

Similarly, the Social Principles in ¶163G call upon Christians to “abstain from gambling and … strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.”

Connecting Faith & Life

FaithLink, Connecting Faith & Life, is a weekly, topical study and an official resource approved by the General Board of Discipleship for The United Methodist Church. It is published weekly by Cokesbury, a division of The United Methodist Publishing House.

FaithLink is a downloadable six-page study guide for use by individuals or groups of mature youths and adults who want to apply their United Methodist beliefs to current faith issues and world events. This study guide not only motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, it also encourages them to act on their beliefs.

Topic areas

Topic areas in “The Lottery” include:

  • “Hope & Dreams on Sale”
  • “The Worst Thing That Ever Happened”
  • “Social Benefit or Social Bane?
  • “United Methodist Perspective
  • “Helpful Links
  • “Lotteries and Poverty
  • “Lottery Timeline
  • “Core Bible Passages

Downloadable resource

Each issue of FaithLink contains four photocopiable pages of background information and Bible passages on the topic, two pages of suggested group activities and discussion questions.

Other FaithLink issues include “The Tax Debate,” “Million Mom March,” “The ‘United States,’” “Poverty & Peace,” “Modern-day Slavery,” “Collective Bargaining,” “Nuclear Power & Faith,” “North Africa & the Middle East,” “Tobacco: Do No Harm,” “Religious Freedom,” “Immigration Reform,” “Greening the Church,” “HMOs,” and “Imprisonment & Justice.”

A new, six-page FaithLink study guide is available each week.

FaithLink can be downloaded from the Cokesbury website by going to FaithLink. The guide can also be received via e-mail or fax subscriptions by contacting Cokesbury at (800) 672-1789.

FaithLink subscription price is $9.50 per issue.

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