Lotteries Here to Stay but Still Shameful


If a group of smart people lacking ethics met to devise ways to get people ... to give their money away and to be happy in the process, the idea of a lottery would result, Warren says. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

I believe the United States has been guilty of many sins throughout its history, collectively speaking.

For example, most will agree that the systematic elimination of many native peoples, the kidnapping and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people of color, and the marginalization of people based on color, gender, creed and religion were all wrong.

I also include the widespread acceptance of abortion as a means of birth control as well as the establishment of public policy making it possible for the bearing of out-of-wedlock children a means by which poor women could partially subsist.

As an equal opportunity offender, I know I just lost some of my readers. However, let me add one more issue to my national sin list.

When the lottery came to Virginia almost three decades ago, we were promised there wouldn't be aggressive advertising, gambling options would not mushroom, and that the funds raised would go toward public education system.

Politicians did the right and smart thing by making the decision a referendum and it passed.

I am confident that, had it failed, it would have eventually passed. After all, as the adage goes, one will never go broke appealing to the baser instincts of the human animal.

The above promises seem to have fallen by the wayside. Lottery ads are everywhere. I counted well over 40 ways to lose one's money in a small, local store recently.

Whatever money may have made it to the educational system, news reports in this and most states report perpetual financial shortages.

I contend that if a group of smart people lacking ethics met to devise ways to get people in all economic classes to give their money away and to be happy in the process, the idea of a lottery would result.

I have long since stopped going into stores that sell lottery tickets on the days when a major drawing is scheduled. I have mumbled un-preacher-like language when I forgot what day it was and stood in a lottery line to buy groceries or fuel.

One excited lady gladly handed over a handful of bills for the lottery. Apparently hearing me sigh, she quipped, "I am going to win so I can quit my job."

Before I managed to stop myself, I retorted, "Let me know how that works out for you."

I believe lottery promoters know it must prey on the poor and ignorant. It has to be at least as wrong to dangle the unlikely prospect of riches before the poor as it is to dangle a piece of bread before a person who is starving while keeping the bread out of reach.

The primary frustration I have with the lottery is the government's acceptance of and promotion of a vice, which that same government will prosecute if gambling isn't according to its rules. The obvious hypocrisy is inexcusable.

I will never forget Frank Stagg coming into New Testament class in early May in the late 1970s.

He carried a Sunday newspaper from two days before under his arm. On or near the front page was the winner of the Kentucky Derby, along with its name, rider, owners and the financial statistics of the event.

Stagg read to us some of that story and then turned to a back page in that same newspaper.

There he read a brief article about a group of poker players on the poor side of town who were arrested for operating an "illegal game of chance." He then waxed prophetically about the obvious inconsistency.

John the Baptist lost his head for preaching against something that he had no chance of changing.

I suppose he knew that, but it didn't keep him from preaching to Herod, "It is not right for you to have your brother's wife."

To be sure, we are all a part of our cultures' group-think and may have blind eyes to things that may eventually be seen as wrong or right. I know I do.

However, I haven't given up on my belief and occasional public statements that governments ought to be ashamed of themselves for promoting gambling just as Christians ought to be ashamed of themselves for participating in it.

Reggie Warren is pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Va., and a former member of the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Editor's note: "Sacred Texts, Social Duty," EthicsDaily.com's documentary on faith and taxes, is available here.

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