The National Lottery: State Power in Support of Sin

by the Rev Dr Alan Clifford


The National Lottery is a national scandal. It is state-sponsored selfishness; Government-led worship at the shrine of godless gain, promoted by blatantly blasphemous advertising.

SPEAKING ETHICALLY, gambling is immoral. It is an attempt to get something for nothing, a means of gaining a living not by honest labour but at the expense of others. It is a moral disease, a dishonest and covetous means of acquiring what belongs to others. That other, equally covetous people agree to the arrangement does not make it less immoral. When a gambler wins, many have lost. Anything that induces people to gamble with money needed for life’s necessities is wrong in principle.

SPEAKING POLITICALLY, we now have officially promoted greed. In backing the lottery, the Government has made immorality respectable. In the wake of the ‘Back to basics’ fiasco and the more recent ‘sleaze’ crisis, who can doubt the moral bankruptcy of the present Government? Pragmatic, vote-catching politicians imagine that charitable ends can justify immoral means. But where is the charity for the struggling and demoralized unemployed? They can ill-afford to take part. Tempted by a delusive ‘get rich quick’ policy, they are cruelly crushed by a corrupt consumerism. Those who think the lottery is harmless fun should remember that addictions have small beginnings which can grow with alarmingly tragic results. The lottery can only aggravate what is already a nationwide gambling epidemic. Next to blatant robbery, it is the basest form of wealth creation.

SPEAKING PERSONALLY, I grew up in a home made miserable by betting – football pools, raffles, dogs, horses, the lot. My father was a compulsive gambler. Forced to work, my mother lived with constant anxiety over money. Unholy rows always erupted when the gas and electric bills arrived. More than once, I used my hard-earned paper- and milk-round money to replace crockery smashed by my father during his drunken, penniless rages. I believe all this anxiety contributed to my mother’s early death from cancer at the age of 44. Even after her death, I sold my treasured Zeiss camera to help my father with his debts. Shame and pity prevent me from revealing more.

SPEAKING RELIGIOUSLY, we face a social crisis with the collapse of the old Protestant work ethic in this country: work and earned income were once considered virtuous. Earnings from gambling were considered vicious. It was dirty money. When there was a strong Christian faith, there was contentment and trust in God when times were hard. There is now an idolatry of wealth. Gambling is a symptom of discontent and unbelief. It is a violation of one of God’s first commands to the human race: ‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’ (Gen. 3: 19). It effectively violates the Commandments ‘You shall not steal’ and ‘You shall not covet’ (Ex. 20: 15, 17). It is inconsistent with ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matt. 19: 19). That is why this is fundamentally a religious issue. It’s all about what makes us ‘tick’, what values ‘drive’ us, where we look for ultimate satisfaction, what ‘god’ we really trust in. The Apostle Paul said: ‘But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare…For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…’ (1 Tim. 6: 6-10).

The Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all [necessary] things shall be added to you’ (Matt. 6: 33). He also warned, ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul’ (Mark 8: 36). In the hard-hitting parable of the rich fool (Lk. 12: 15-21), Christ said ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses’. To those who live and die worshipping wealth, facing a Christless eternity, the Saviour concluded, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ No less hard-hitting than his Master, the Apostle James wrote with timeless power and relevance: ‘Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded…You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter’ (Jas. 5: 1-5)..

In the home atmosphere I have described, I became an evangelical Christian, partly through my mother’s then nominal religious influence. A year before she died, I had the joy and privilege of leading her to Christ. In that faith and joy she died. At the end of the day, my mother – because of salvation in Christ – backed an eternal winner! Tragically, my father continued to back losers right to the end. The lesson is too obvious. Gambling is a mug’s game! However, my father still had a better chance of winning on the horses than the most optimistic patron of the National Lottery! The odds are heavily stacked against winning a significant prize: 14 million to 1 for the jackpot; 54 to 1 for a small prize. Never in the history of gambling have so many fools been deceived so easily by so little!

Are anti-lottery Christians kill-joys? It all depends what you mean by ‘joy’. We are no more kill-joys than those who seek to stop ‘joy-riders’. If gambling is immoral, then the so-called ‘joy of winning’ is immoral joy! In fact, all this is to trivialize joy. The word is being debased. The word ‘fun’ is perhaps more appropriate. But the question then becomes whether there will be any ‘fun’ when the ‘morning after’ disappointment comes, or when winners are besieged with scroungers wanting a hand-out! No, Christians are not kill-joys. Indeed, they are promoters of ‘solid joys and lasting treasure’ through the Lord Jesus Christ – the everlasting riches of sins forgiven, peace with God and heavenly joy for those who trust in Him alone. This is the Bible’s message of salvation: ‘In your presence is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Ps. 16: 11). What of living in this world? The joys of Christians are not confined to the spiritual joys of the Gospel. Here are also the joys of providence and sharing with the needy. For those who trust in God rather than idolize His gifts, there is the promise of God’s constant care – and contentment to go with it. But the priorities and conditions are clear: we must not ‘trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy’ (1 Tim. 6: 17).

SPEAKING ECCLESIASTICALLY, there is a sinister aspect to the religious issue too. Gambling in all forms is commonplace in Roman Catholic countries like Spain, Italy, Ireland, etc. It is one of the features of Rome’s ambivalent attitude towards wealth, a symptom of her spiritual decadence. Britain’s first lottery of 1826 – in the decadent days of George IV – was effectively killed off by influential evangelical political leaders like William Wilberforce, themselves representatives of a growing godly consensus created by the Methodist revival of the previous century. As Protestant apostasy and ecumenism advance, and – despite the moral scandals of priests – as Rome’s influence grows, it is not to be wondered at that the new lottery is so popular. Some of the worst features of Roman Catholic communities are on the increase, not least the connection between gambling and crime. On the very day the National Lottery was launched (Saturday, November 19, 1994), the front page of the TIMES drew attention to the criminal factor: ‘Police monitor lottery winners to beat drug cash laundering’. Loraine Boettner’s thirty-year old assessment is by no means dated: ‘Historically, organized gambling has meant organized crime. Recently a high-ranking legal expert declared that gambling is the life blood of organized crime, and that if gambling could be wiped out much large-scale crime would die for lack of sustenance. Organized gambling flourishes in a twilight zone of society where coercion and corruption are the methods of doing business. An evil atmosphere envelops such a community and eats into the fabric of law and order. The bribery and corruption of officials, with attendant social abuses, is a common result. Yet in the United States, for example, the Roman Church, which receives substantial revenues from gambling games, has not only failed to oppose legalized gambling but frequently has itself run foul of state anti-gambling laws. On the other hand, Protestant groups, which believe that it is a sin to gamble, have taken the lead in having bingo, and particularly professional gambling outlawed’ (Roman Catholicism, 1962, p. 470).

SPEAKING EVANGELISTICALLY, a gambling nation virtually bets that there is no God, no life beyond death, no judgement to come, no everlasting punishment, no need of salvation. If gamblers are right, there’s nothing to be afraid of. But if they’re wrong, all the jackpots of the universe could not insure one immortal soul against the wrath of God. But is there any ‘insurance’? Yes, the age-old, tried and tested Evangelical Christian Faith: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (Jn. 3: 16). Reader, don’t take risks with your eternal destiny. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved!

Dr Alan C. Clifford

Pastor, Norwich Reformed Church

18 responses to “The National Lottery: State Power in Support of Sin

  1. As a Christian and a libertarian conservative, I can’t really accept that God is a “wrathful” kind of God. If as Arthur Peacocke ( ) thought, God is omniscient and exists through all time and before and after, then it cannot be of much concern to Him that humans gamble, seeing that He is also all-forgiving as He must consequently be in regard to His nature as described.

  2. I expect confidently that IanB will be making a stop-in here, soon.

  3. I’m sorry…what has this got to do with Liberty?.

    If this fellow wants to preach let him do it to whatever congration he can find to confound with his nasty nonsense.
    Your own Father, condemned to an eternity of torment because he couldn’t control a lousy habit and you think that is just ?. Robert Heinlein said (and I’m paraphrasing) “Most people can’t concieve of a God who is any less of an arsehole than they are themselves”. If you were angry at your Father you should have waited til you grew up and given him a well-deserved beating for his “sins”–but to be pleased that he should suffer for all eternity–You are not a nice man at all despite your bogus piety. I do not think that the Man of Sorrows, who spoke about forgiviness even to those who slew him in a very nasty manner would have much truck with your tripe.

    If you have something to say about Liberty, albeit from a Christian perspective, that is fine. But if all you want to do is preach venom–please bugger off somewhere else–the world is full of haters who would welcome you to their team.

  4. Governments use libertarian arguments, “people should be allowed to what they want to do with their own money”, in defernce of their lottery schemes that they would never dream of using in other contexts – for example “people should be allowed to do what they want to do with their own money, so if they do not wish to emply black people….”.

    However, let us stick to the lottery scheme – if the government is sincere in its belief that people should be allowed to spend their own money on lottery tickets, then why not allow other lottery business enterprises?

    The real reason is that they may offer better (better – not worse) odds, i.e. give the people buying the tickets more of a chance of a prize.

    And if these rival lottery business enterprises were allowed where would the “good causes” be?

    In short the whole lottery scheme is a scam – a revenue measure for government favoured schemes.

    A scam with government cheating the ticket buyers – by forbidding rival operators offering better odds to the ticket buyers (and no money for the government favoured schemes).

  5. It’s certainly a wish to get rich quick without effort,perhaps that makes it immoral. And yes. it’s a bit of a government scam to provide funds for favoured topics. It detracts people from thinking about what is really important, like family, children,community. But the government will not ban it-so,I’ve decided that should I win the biggy this week I’ll make a donation to something, or someone;maybe the L.A. even. Then I’m off into the sunset, passport in hand.

  6. The Reverend never heard of Pascal’s Wager, then..

  7. Patricia – I play the Lottery about three times a year, and usually check the ticket a month after I’ve bought it. I haven’t won even £10 since abut 1996. The only way I’ll get rich is through a film deal on one of my novels. Some hope of that….

  8. SPEAKING ETHICALLY, gambling is immoral. It is an attempt to get something for nothing, a means of gaining a living not by honest labour but at the expense of others.

    Not hard to see the link between Calvinism and the Labour Theory Of Value, is it?

  9. I’ve won a tenner, an 8.50 and that’s it. I don’t buy all the time. have to say though, unlike some remarks people have made over the life of the lottery about greed, envy and all that, (always when poor people strike out for unearned riches) I’ve found I feel really pleased for many of the winners, especially those in ordinary jobs,which they’ve done 30 or more years in. And if I ever finish the novels I’m writing I’ll probably get 30p a read from having to self-publishing on the net!

  10. Edward Spalton

    The lottery exists as a quasi monopoly by state fiat. It has also spawned a very well paid bureaucracy to decide on the worthy recipients of the money collected from the punters ( a sort of tax on stupidity, if ever there was one).
    The decisions of the awarders of the profits are inevitably tinged with the reigning cult of political correctness. Far better to sack the bureaucracy and treat the proceeds as general tax revenue but better by far to scrap the whole squalid business.
    Apart from keeping us out of the euro, Gordon Brown did one other good deed. He ditched plans for a chain of mega casinos which the Blair government planned t “regenerate” deprived inner city areas. I think the residual influence of his upbringing in the manse was at work here.

    As Dr Clifford rightly says, large scale, organised gambling is a honey pot for organised crime of all sorts. Although I am reminded of the story of a clergyman in a train compartment full of bookies. They were having bets on various things to pass the time and asked the reverend gentleman if he would like to play. Well – he would have no objection to a game of skill – perhaps spelling? He would lend his dictionary for the purpose. At the end of the journey, a crowd of red-faced (and poorer) bookies leaving the train were heard to remark that they had never know that “auspice” was spelt that way!

  11. Why does Preachy McPreacher get a platform here?

    If you want to criticise the lottery then say:
    It’s a state enforced monopoly which taxes the ordinary player in order to fund the activities of the well-to-do who do not or will not fund those things themselves but think they should exist for the good of the country. It also, by offering high jackpots, reduces uptake in other gambles which pay out more of their money to the players and forces competitors to offer equally high jackpots reducing the number of players who benefit.

    What you don’t get to say is “gambling is immoral” – it’s none of you’re f**king business. Don’t like it? Don’t do it. Leave the rest of us alone.

    “blasphemous advertising”
    Sounds good to me.

    “all the jackpots of the universe could not insure one immortal soul against the wrath of God”
    Ah, so whatever you decide you’re imaginary friend is against should be banned as if it saves even one soul from eternal torment it is a price worth paying?

    Rev, why don’t you stick to making excuses for why your omnipotent deity decides not to stop the very real suffering here on earth and leave the rest of us alone to decide if we want to risk our immortal souls to your impotent, non-existent, logically contradictory, completely unnecessary sky daddy.

  12. If gamblers are right, there’s nothing to be afraid of. But if they’re wrong, all the jackpots of the universe could not insure one immortal soul against the wrath of God.

    This is the kind of thing that’s always bothered me about Christianity. If it is true, then liberty is impossible; we live in a kind of panopticon prison camp, and morality is reduced to the whimsical demands of the omniscient commandant, and the only freedom you have is the choice to obey or be tortured for eternity. It’s never struck me as a very positive image.

    Any human who acts in the way that hellfire preachers describe God acting in is considered by human morality to be not just a criminal but a depraved monster. If God’s is not bound by our understanding of morality, what use is talk of morality, and what use is talk of God’s “goodness”? That goodness reduces to mere power, the very thing Libertarians struggle against. We say, “just because the State has the power to do X, it does not mean it has the right to do X”. But if our preacher friend is correct here, the power and oppression of the State is as nothing to the power and oppression of God, and to struggle against the lesser former evil seems futile in the context of the greater latter one. I really cannot see the appeal of an eternal existence if that existence must be one of either eternal torture or eternal obsequious bowing and scraping and praising at the feet of a cosmic version of an absolutist oriental potentate. It also makes one wonder what meaning a brief three-score and ten here on Earth would have in an existence of infinite length; trillions and quadrillions of years in (if you are lucky) the Pearly Gated community.

    This tyrant god just doesn’t appeal very much to me. I must admit to being baffled as to why He appeals to anyone.

  13. I grew up in a home ruined by an obsessive gambler, THEREFORE IT IS WRONG FOR EVERYONE ELSE TO GAMBLE

    la la la la la la la bonkers article la la la la la

  14. @IanB, that is exactly what I said in my first comment.

    @Keddaw, we the owners of the blog see no reason to not give Alan Clifford headroom. All he’s saying is things that may offend some people, and as we have always said, nobody has a right to “not be offended”. I personally don’t agree with much that he says, not because of the theology but because he’s interfering with people’s free will, which was a Gift frm God. God allows us to sin, but is a beneficent and forgiving God, unlike, say, Allah (a different god, I am convinced) and will not eternally penalise those who stray, with hellfire etc.

    Hell is socialism in the Real World. Death is the only release from permanent socialism. Liberalism gives people something, temporally, in their lifetimes, which is more useful.

  15. Edward Spalton

    IanB & Carl,
    I can only say that I dissent from your views and there isn’t space or time to have a meaningful theological discussion here. Try a good old fashioned, popular Christian apologist like CS Lewis for a different view – neither as you portray nor namby pamby. His “Abolition of Man” is very short and thought provoking philosophy as much as theology – or “Mere Christianity”.

    I have a rather different style of churchmanship from the Revd Alan Clifford but I think he is right about the lottery. Gambling will always be with us – but it is the industrial scale which creates the problems. Just as problems of alcoholism have increased since the licensing hours were relaxed, turning the centres of even our pleasant market towns into simulacra of Hogarth’s Gin Lane. I suppose Ian, you might say “Don’t go there”! The increased availability of opportunities for gambling is causing similar problems.

    Running my own small business, I quickly noticed that its modest success caused a great deal of spite and envy. Yet winners of lottery and football pools were hailed as heroes. I suppose it is for a similar reason that the Duke of Wellington liked the Order of the Garter because “There’s no damned merit about it”!

    We also live in a victimological age where people do not feel responsible for the consequences of their actions and yet have a strong sense of entitlement to unlimited, instant gratification and to unlimited help from the taxpayer for the consequences of attempting to achieve it – whether through sex, drink, drugs or gambling, which gets hold of many people at great, eventual public expense. I am continually astonished at the amount of money going into the lottery over the counter of our local shop. It’s not a matter of an occasional flutter. If the lottery did not exist , people would be better off.

    Assuming that you would not just allow the victims of these addictions and appetites to stew in their own juice, the expense of maintaining them will fall on the public purse and that reduces the liberty of every taxpayer. I doubt whether there is an ideal balance in the matter.

    My granny used to have very nice card parties on a Saturday night. If the company was congenial, she would slip out and wind back the grandfather clock in the hall by half an hour, so the party would go on after midnight into Sunday but not too long! It was partly sabbatarian and also took into account that not a few of the visitors had some miles to go and cows to milk in the morning. That sort of thing was never any problem but we will always have the weaker brethren and the more opportunity they have for indulging their weakness, the greater will be the charge on us all.

  16. Well Paul, I’d like to take credit, but Rothbard got there first with the argument that the LTV is Calvinist in origin. :)

  17. I know Ian.

    But that makes no difference – most points have been made by other people. One still has to choose whether what they claim is worth supporting – that is an act of judgement.