Is praying for a lottery win frowned upon? Depends on who you ask
November 28th, 2012
02:51 PM ET

Is praying for a lottery win frowned upon? Depends on who you ask

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

Washington (CNN) – With odds of purchasing the winning Powerball ticket set at 1 in 175,223,510 – longer odds than dying from a bee sting or being struck by lighting – it shouldn’t be shocking that lotto hopefuls are turning to God for some divine intervention in advance of Wednesday night’s drawing for a $550 million jackpot.

One hastily set up website, “Prayer List for Powerball,” even charges people a dollar a piece to be included on a “list of those wishing to pray for each other to win the Powerball lottery.”

“Because WE Are STRONGER When WE Are CONNECTED,” the website says.

Around 20 people have bought in, their names scrawled across the bottom of the site.

But the idea of praying for something so selfish has raised some eyebrows. Many on Twitter are asking the simple question: Is it OK that I ask God to make my lottery ticket a winner?

[tweet https://twitter.com/MOBster_/status/273787081321484290%5D

So, are such prayers really OK?

“Sure, but it is complicated,” said Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford University anthropology professor who wrote the book “When God Talks Back,” about the use of prayer.

“I think people have parallel registers for thinking about the consequences of prayer,” she said. “For some, there is an invitation to talk to God about everything. At the same time, there is a sense that when you are walking with Jesus, you are becoming a better person, a person who would not want your prayer to prevent someone else to win the lottery.”

In doing research for her book, Luhrmann spoke with hundreds of Christians about why and how they pray. Some conversations centered on what she called prayer for “trivial things” – a good haircut, a parking spot or the answers to an exam. Others, however, derided those prayers as beneath God.

Lurhmann says the latter group of people doesn’t want God to be someone you would “just get coffee with.” Instead, they see a more formal God and are concerned, according to Lurhmann, “about [people] misunderstanding who God is.”

Those who view God more informally would say, according to Lurhmann, “that it is important to pray to God, but it is also important for God to be God. God wants to hear from you about everything, but God is going to make decisions about what he will do.”

For Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas, whether it is acceptable to pray for a winning lottery ticket boils down to whether you believe people will do good things with that money.

“Who are we to say that that person won’t change the world with that money,” Goodman said. “Why do we always have to think that people are going to do the wrong thing? I want to think that people are good, and I want to think that if someone comes into that money, they are going to do something good with it.”

Being from Las Vegas, a city that thrives on gambling, people regularly come to Goodman’s synagogue to pray for a bit of gambling luck. Though the Talmud, a Jewish holy book, says that professional gamblers should not be trusted, he says these people come to services because “they clearly think God is going to help them win.”

“Who are we to qualify whether or not this is trivial,” Goodman said.

Like those who have come to the rabbi’s synagogue, many on Twitter have looked to God for a lottery win.

[tweet https://twitter.com/dlightfoot3/status/273694846747832321%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/ThatBoiLamb/status/273605766936682496%5D

At the Christian Prayer Center, a website that allows people to post prayers publicly, some have mentioned the lottery in a section called “Prayers for Finance.”

“For almost a year now I feel like the LORD is leading me to play the lottery,” reads one anonymous prayer posted recently. “I played the Mega Money Lotto for tomorrow nights drawing and I ask that your prayer warrior will pray for me for the numbers I had played and would hit the jackpot and if GOD's will for me to win I will be a blessing to his kingdom to help the poor and the needy.”

This practice isn’t unheard of. In the past, lottery winners have credited prayer with their financial windfalls.

In 2007, after Gloria Aguda won $9 million from the Colorado Lottery, she told the Denver Post that when her house was about to be foreclosed upon, she prayed for help and bought a lottery ticket.

Earlier this year, when 48 members of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority won the lottery, some credited the win to prayer. Larry Green, a SEPTA employee for more than 30 years, said he prayed for his deceased wife, a woman who had always “talked about us hitting the lottery.”

“I prayed for a lottery win. I prayed to certain saints,” Green told NBC10 in Philadelphia. “And after we won, I kept praying to those saints, and I just wanted to say, never doubt the power of prayer, and that's it.”

Religion and the lottery have long been connected, primarily because religious leaders from many denominations have protested allowing lotteries in their states. For example, when South Carolina voters decided to repeal a constitutional amendment and allow the state to hold a lottery in the year 2000, religious voices from the largely evangelical state voiced disapproval.

“Anti-lottery signs proliferated on church property, clergy signed full-page newspaper advertisements opposing the plan and minister after minister wrote letters to the editor and guest commentaries for the South Carolina press,” recounts James L. Guth, professor at Furman University, in his paper “The Lotto and the Lord.

Earlier this year, Texas Baptists asked the state’s lottery commission to totally abolish the state lottery, arguing that it takes advantage of the poor and caters to impulse buyers.

“Having a deceptive product that is supported by the state is morally wrong,” Suzii Paynter, director of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. “From a Christian perspective, that is wrong. We have a moral aversion to exploiting poor populations.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. Informer

    Really? Am I reading this headline correctly? Every time I think that perfect stupidity has bee achieved, someone manages to push it a notch beyond. Is it okay to pray to win the lottery? Gosh, I don't know. That's a tough one! I'm guessing its probably the same crowd who actually believes they might win the lottery who are wondering whether it is right or not to pray for it to happen.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  2. El Flaco

    What fools you all are.

    Jesus has no control over the Lotto.

    The Lotto Gods reside on Easter Island, inside those 887 stone statues.
    If you pray to them, they will guide you, but they lie most of the time.
    The trick is to get them to tell you which convenience store to buy your lotto ticket at.

    The Lotto Gods do not choose a person to win; they choose the convenience store that will win.
    Then, you must discern WHICH of the 887 Lotto Gods is telling the truth.

    That is why I will win the Powerball in only a few hours and you are all fools.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Apple Bush


      November 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  3. Sushi Kanji

    We have birthday today! Free Green Tea Mochi for birthday boy!!

    Otanjoubi omedetou
    otanjoubi omedetou,
    otanjoubi, otanjoubi
    otanjoubi omedetoud

    November 28, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  4. mdell27

    Pray to God for a week, then pray to Chuck Norris for a week. You will find the percentage of prayers answered will be about the same.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Correction, it be exactly the same.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      No, do as George Carlin advises.

      Pray to Joe Pesci.

      "So I've been praying to Joe for about a year now. And I noticed something. I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same 50% rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don't. Same as God, 50-50. Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe, the wishing well and the rabbit's foot, same as the Mojo Man, same as the Voodoo Lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles, it's all the same: 50-50. So just pick your superstîtion, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself." – George Carlin

      November 28, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      We see this clip here a lot. But it really belongs in this thread.


      November 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Splinter48708

      Let's see. Pray to God and you get an answer. Pray to Chuck Norris for him to kick someone's butt...He might do that with you instead of your enemy for praying to an idol (He's a Christian, man. That's evident in the many PRO-CHRISTIAN episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger.)

      So, while you deride God as nothing but a figment of someone's overactive imagination, I chose to place my faith and trust in Him...Because I would rather pass on and be right as opposed to dying and being in front of God and realize too late that the atheists were full of manure and have all eternity to regret that.

      So, go ahead, curse God, deny that He even exists. That's your right, but, please respect that there are believers out there who are praying for you and not praying to Chuck Norris...or "The Church of the Fonz." (Let us "Aaayyyy!")

      November 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  5. Sol Deus

    Why not. You are just talking to yourself anyway

    November 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  6. kathe814

    If you think Jesus owes you something, which he doesn't , knock yourself out.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  7. Randy

    Prayer doesn't do anything. It's just talking to yourself, and then when something happens that coincides with one's request, it's attributed to the prayer. Of course, when something happens that goes against the request (or, nothing at all), it's just God saying no. The best 2:13 of youtube ever sums it up beautifully. http://youtu.be/JJxCFa8YmbQ

    November 28, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Apple Bush

    You are 16 years old and taking swimming lessons with your aunt. You don’t know where the changing rooms are and your aunt points you in the wrong direction. You end up in the birthday party room. It is empty so you change there. You come out for your lesson and discover that the glass you were surrounded by is one way. Everyone on the outside could see everything you were doing on the inside. Where is your God now?

    November 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Impeach

      If he was in your mouth you wouldn'e be talking about Him.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      You are at a German “sparkle party”. You are wearing your party pants. You are ready to dancy dance. It is a hard-core German sparkle party and you are wearing your rubber boots. The music is pulsating and it feels good to dance. You notice a familiar face standing at the bar. You dance over to her as fancy as you please in your polished rubber boots. You bend low to smell her perfume and say hello. It is your father. Where is your God now?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Akira

      The song says that God's got a sick sense of humor.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Akira did you bust out with the DEPECHE MODE ? lol

      November 28, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Your husband takes you to the company Christmas party. You have long been jealous of his very attractive co-worker Genevieve, and your jealous imagination suspects there is a spark between them. You dress to the nines and look great. The moment comes to say hello to her. She is beautiful, charming and smells intoxicating. You break a heal just as you reach to shake her hand. You spill your drink on both Genevieve and your husband. They look at each other and giggle, holding the gaze a bit too long. Where is your God now?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Akira

      Apple, I sure did.
      I went there.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      You are at the Museum of Modern Art with a date. You have high hopes for this relationship. She is smart, pretty and a great cook. You just critiqued a group of Kevin Appel paintings when you felt a sudden urge to relieve your bowels. But where is the bathroom? Too late. And it is loose. You drag your smelly self to the elevator; she is behind you but gagging... Where is your God now?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  9. FlyingSpaghettiMonster

    It's official. My search for the most inane news story every written is now over.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • PaulBel

      Totally agree. This article has all the substance of macaroni that has been left in the boiling pot far too long.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  10. Jake

    I pray CNN starts reporting news again instead of this brainless fodder for the uneducated masses. 'Is the earth really not flat? News at 11.'

    November 28, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Be honest, Jake. This stuff is IN ADDITION TO, not INSTEAD OF, actual news. There's plenty of news on this site if you make the barest minimum of effort to find it — like looking damn near anywhere on their home page.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Tippers

      Thanks Richard!

      November 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  11. RichardSRussell

    In fact, people who believe in luck and God are the very sorts of people who should play the lottery and pray. Odds are a TINY bit better with the lottery, but clearly you've got time and money to waste, so go ahead and waste them to your heart's content.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The 'pay-per-pray' concept is sublime. P.T.Barnum would have loved it.

      Mind you, it's been done to the sheeple before. As I recall, it was one of Martin Luther's 99 objections to the Catholic Church.

      I wonder if those who contributed to the 'pay-per-pray' website think of themselves as "Protestants" and if they have any clue about what that means?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  12. JB

    Sure you can pray !!!!

    You can do it.. You won't starve..
    But do some good things with it...
    That will make you feel better than 'making it rain' !!!

    One condition, tho...
    If you DON'T do good deeds with this money...
    The Lord Shall Strike Yo Azzz Down !!!!!

    Good Luck All..

    November 28, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  13. scoto

    You can pray for anything you like. It makes no difference. I mean it LITERALLY makes no difference.
    Studies show it makes no difference whether you pray for something or not NADA. I'm not saying there is no God (although I personally believe there isnt) just that if there is one he doesnt really seem to be too impressed by whether you pray or not.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Where IS the prayer-bot? Hope she is not ill.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Bush, why do you assume it's a "she" and not literally a bot?
      You don't suppose ...
      I've been praying for weeks that it would go away. Has prayer FINALLY actually changed something?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Apple Bush


      November 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  14. jj

    Religions that promise you stuff are not religions

    November 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • Huebert

      No, they are just religions with a marketing gimmick.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Religions = cults the promise you stuff.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  15. Sam Yaza

    No its isn't vary rude and selfish, if you god can answered prayers wouldn't it be better to pray Israel away, or to end wold hunger

    November 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  16. drito

    Praying doesn't do anything...these people are wasting their time and money.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  17. Rev. J.T.

    Praying to win the lottery is the subtlest form of greed and selfishness. To even think God would condone it is an exercise in fundamental ignorance.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      really, it's not that subtle.

      Pretty obvious in my opinion.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      The dollar they spent on the prayer could have been spent on a lotto ticket.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The lotto is a self-imposed idiocy tax to start with.

      The prayer site is truly inspired. P.T.Barnum would be proud of whomever created the 'pay-per-pray' website.

      People who believe:
      1. They have a meaningful 'chance' of winning the lotto, and
      2. In God, and
      3. That God listens to and answers prayers, and
      4. That God would actually want them to win $500m

      Should be separated from their money. It is truly said that a fool and his money are easily parted. This is the ultimate intersection of foolishness.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  18. Sushi Kanji

    Konnichiwa! Come in prease, Teppan grill is open or sit at sushi bar.

    Akira Katerpiller Roll (Rice, Avacado, Toro, Sea Eel and Drizzled in Sweet Terriaki) $5.99

    Kirin or Sapporo – Large $4.99


    Toshi Special Octopus Sashimi

    Mongorian free baby octopus. Baby octopus, still alive and cooking in lemon juice and sprinkled with green onion and special hot sauce. Feel the little tentacles grab your mouth, lips and tongue while you chew. Delightful! $29.99.


    Mesopotamia Monkey Brain Roll

    Inside, crab meat and avocado. Outside, salmon and spicy tuna. Deep fried. Ask for Jalapeno if you want it with a kick!



    Troll special hand roll $4.99. Rice, Salmon, Avocado and Sea Eel.

    November 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Akira

      You went to work!

      Yes, I hope Mr. Lamb comes back.
      I enjoy him.
      He is truly unique.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Well I can't finish book two without him! It was just starting to get interesting.

      November 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  19. Just call me Lucifer

    Please, those of "faith" should pray all day every day to win the lottery, have their car miraculously repaired and have pizza delivered without calling and placing an order. That way the idiots will be too preoccupied to concern themselves with how the rest of us live our lives. So please pray to the almighty god of thunder or whatever the phuck you believe, the rest of us have reality to contend with. I'm the devil and I approve this message.

    November 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  20. AMP

    Another Scam of Greedy and fanatics who loves to lie and cheat people. Americans gullible and falls in their trap. What a Shame?

    November 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      A shame?

      Such gullibility as this is begging for such treatment.

      If they feel like they are getting something for their money, is it wrong? Is this more of a stupidity tax than the lotto itself?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.