Are Modern Lotteries Moral?

http://www.policyofliberty.net/e-books/Are%20State%20Lotteries%20Immoral%20Part%202.pdf

The author of this brief article argues that lotteries are not immoral.  I am not particularly interested with his Biblical arguments.  Although the Bible may not condemn gambling as intrinsically evil, it doesn’t matter if it is intrinsically evil or not.  The question is, given the circumstances surrounding the lottery today, is it morally justifiable to participate in a lottery?

The author argues that the modern lottery is not immoral.  He grants the premise that a very significant amount of the lottery is funded by the poor.  He then argues that it is not our fault if the poor spend their money unwisely, and that there is no evidence to support the conclusion that if there were no lottery, then the poor would gamble less or save more.

However, I wonder if this argument is even relevent.  I don’t think anyone blames a rich man who wins the lottery for the mistakes of the poor man.  Indeed, I’d argue that the poor are responsible for their own mistakes.  However, is it morally justifiable for a wealthy individual to claim the lottery winnings with the knowledge of where that money came from?  I say that it is not.  Assume I am playing a game of poker against a man who is equally as skilled as I am, but he is down on his luck and is gambling with the money that is supposed to feed himself and his family that night.  Obviously, he is at fault for placing the bet; but is it morally justifiable for me to play an active part in his downfall?  Sure, we both have an equal chance of winning, but the stakes are not as high for me as they are for him.  In effect, my intention is to win money, and the circumstances behind the action are that the man from whom I am trying to win money is poor.  Such intentionality is built into the action itself, as Anscombe would say. 

But I don’t see how gambling with such a person can be justified.  They aren’t playing with small change, but they are gambling over a man’s livelihood.  The rich man might not be able to prevent the poor man from wasting his money with someone else who is willing to gamble, but that doesn’t mean that the rich man is obligated to participate in the man’s potential downfall.  Nor can it be argued that the rich man is giving the poor man a chance to earn some money; if the rich man were so concerned with the poor man’s well being, he could help the man in several ways that didn’t potentially involve ruining the man at the same time.

With that said, I don’t see how the lottery is any different.  If there are several people whose livelihood is at stake, it does not seem moral for me to participate no matter how much the other people are to blame for their own mistakes.  It does not matter if lottery prohibition would lessen gambling or not:  even if I am not responsible for my brother’s mistakes (don’t tell that to Zossima from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov!) I am responsible for my own actions; even if I don’t think lotteries are inherently evil, they don’t seem to be moral in this instance.

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One Comment on “Are Modern Lotteries Moral?”

  1. Joel Says:

    Mr. Hamilton,
    There is a lot that you spoke about here. I think there are many things wrong on several levels. First of all I think there is something very wrong with have a large population living in poverty. I am not by any means proposing wealth redistribution, which I am adamantly opposed to, but that there is something inherintly wrong with a society that has a large population of impoverished people. It is a result of sin on a national level. Just a God has laws for us to follow in our personal conduct, He has laws for us to follow in our professional and national conduct and when those laws are broken we get large scale povverty as the result.

    There are cumpusive gamblers too. These are men who have no control over their ability to avoid placing a bet. It is a very particular type of insanity and never occures in the average person, but in some cases a man will loose all ability to resist a bet, no matter how large or small. Sometimes it may be deceitful because he seems normal in all other regards and may be very successful in all other aspects of his life. It may be easy to view him as someone who makes foolish and irresponsable decisions, but the problem is not so simple. Certainly he must take resposibility for his action, but understanding is called for on account of a mental illness being suffered from. It may be likened to calling a man foolish and irresponsable for responding to an hallucination while suffering from schizophrenia. Foolish? Yes, but sick as well. He is a man who calls for compassion and correction.

    If we are to be immitators of Christ then we must correct those around us when we see something glaringly wrong. What would God be like if, when standing before the adultress, He picked up a stone and threw it at her? Is this a God of compassion and redemption or one of judgement and condemnation? Is this a God than can be approached for kindness and mercy? Not in the least. Jesus never simply let people off the hook though. They were always admonished. They were exhorted to abandon a life of sin and draw strength from Him who is in all things and gives life to all. And how will anyone find faith unless they hear those who were sent? They won’t. It is by the preaching of Christ crucified and raised from the dead that we find faith and gain eternal life. You have a high calling Fra Hamilton. Go forth and be fruitful.


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