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I am confused as to whether buying lottery tickets is prohibited.

I know that gambling is prohibited because it is considered to be a "theft" in that people expect to win but often don't.

However, Chabad has a story about a Rabbi telling someone to buy a lottery ticket, making me wonder if it is allowed.

Don't people who buy lottery tickets still hope to win and 99.9% of the time loose? Or does the small cost and general understanding that one will (statistically) likely loose make it acceptable?

  • related... I see a lot of frum institutions using lotteries as a way of raising money. People who buy lottery tickets in these circumstances don't expect to win but see the money given as tzedaka. – Dude Jan 6 '17 at 5:01
  • People only expect to win things that involve at least a modicum of an impression of skill. The lottery is totally random. – Double AA Jan 6 '17 at 5:03
  • @Dude would this mean that in buying a lottery ticket it is required to research how the funds are used? I would imagine that different national lotteries distribute such profits differently... – User093203920 Jan 6 '17 at 5:04
  • @DoubleAA I assume that needing to check numbers (and possibly failing to accurately check them) isn't considered a modicum of skill? Does this mean that other games commonly held to be gambling (like slot machines) Halachically are not because they are solely games of chance? – User093203920 Jan 6 '17 at 5:06
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    @User093203920 "halachically gambling" may be a meaningless statement. We can ask if something is theft (or more precisely, if the agreement to pay if you lose is invalid). We can ask if something contributes to society. "Gambling" is likely not a halachic category. – Double AA Jan 6 '17 at 5:09
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There are dozens of articles online that deal with this.

One particular article by Rabbi Gil Student (here) quotes many Poskim on the matter. After summarizing the halachic background, that the issue of Asmachta for gambling is a machlokes between the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, he notes that Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 7:CM:6) prohibits lottery participation for Sephardim, who rule like the Shulchan Aruch, and discourages Ashkenazim from doing so. However, Rav Ovadiah Hadaya (Yaskil Avdi 8:YD:5:3) disagrees, and permits lottery tickets even for Sephardim, by arguing that it does not fall under the general rule of asmachta, since the company paying out the money always intends to do so. Rabbi Yosef counters by saying that the proceeds from each individual ticket are stolen, see there for details. Rav Ya'akov Ariel (Beohalah Shel Torah 1:11) permits this for Sephardim since the payment comes in advance of the draw, so one is clearly acknowledging that they are ok with the possibility of losing.

He then quotes various other modern-day poskim about other reasons why entering a lottery is not asmachta and would allow even Sephardim to purchase lottery tickets, including the OP's theory:

Rav Sternbuch (ibid.) also suggests that the odds of winning a lottery are so low that no purchaser assumes he will win. Therefore, there is no asmakhta.

However, Rabbi Student concludes that there may be moral issues with purchasing lottery tickets. As always, CYLOR for psak.

Edit: Also, see this article which permits it, and quotes students of Rav Ovadiah Yosef's who claim that he retracted his stringent ruling later in life.

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Rabbi Shalom Arush's Garden of Riches says, "Its permitted to buy a lottery ticket but, not more than one because this shows the lack of emuna in Hashem".

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