The casting of lots for deciding affairs and determining fates has a long record, going back to the Bible and other ancient texts. However, a lottery as an instrument for material gain dates to much more recent times—to the 17th century at the latest. In that time it was common in Europe to organize lotteries, with proceeds for various public purposes, including a variety of charitable uses and municipal repairs.

Lotteries have won broad public approval in many states, and they are a major source of income for state governments. They have a number of important advantages, particularly in times of economic stress when the state is under pressure to raise taxes or cut public services.

In addition, lotteries convey the message that they provide an opportunity to improve one’s circumstances. This is a particularly appealing message in the context of religious teachings that warn against coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that is his” (Exodus 20:17).

Lottery players are often lured into the game by the promise of good things to come if they win the lottery. But the odds of winning are overwhelmingly against them, even after factoring in the cost of the ticket. They also may be seduced by the false belief that they can buy the lottery’s “good luck” with credit cards or other forms of debt. In reality, such purchases will only increase their burden and not improve their lives.