How to Practice Sensitivity When Teaching About the Lottery

To some, a simple game of chance might be considered a sin, or even something downright evil.

By Tom Duda

Lotto balls

As I walked through the streets of Izmir and Ankara, Turkey, the atmosphere was different than the atmosphere in America. The sidewalks were marble, and the streets were often cobblestone—not too easy to walk on when it rained or snowed. There were the smells of simit (a bagel-like bread covered in sesame seeds) and doner (a Turkish version of a gyro). Vendors were selling their wares and yelling loudly in Turkish hoping to catch the attention of a passerby. Lotto billets, or lottery tickets, were one hot item. A large mass of them were connected to a large cylinder which spun with the wind, flapping the tickets that were affixed to the outside. A sign was attached to the grungy table with the seller behind it claiming prizes of upwards of 25 million Turkish liras.

I always fantasized about winning the lottery and what I would do with the money. More so, I always found gambling an interesting topic. One can elicit so much conversation as an ESL instructor when venturing onto such a topic. You can have the class talk about Las Vegas or Indian reservations, a gambling addiction, the loss of an entire net worth, or their dreams of winning a large amount of money and what they would do with it.

Things to Consider

In Turkey, as well as all other predominantly Muslim countries, there is a factor that I did not consider before I started talking about the lottery in my English conversation classes. By the standards of devout Muslims, casino gambling and games of chance are considered Haram, or the equivalent of a sin. I learned this fact the hard way when I introduced the topic to my speaking club and had a handful of students headed for the door. Instead of handing out the fake tickets I had created in order to have a mock lottery drawing, the class turned into a discussion of how gambling works in the Middle East. Casinos are forbidden except for on the island of Cyprus where tourists go to gamble. Recently, some local laws have been passed in small, conservative villages forbidding the playing of the beloved game of Backgammon. Backgammon is a popular pastime in many parks and cafes throughout Turkey. Currently, in a handful of villages, people caught playing Backgammon can be arrested even though they are not gambling or playing for money. Interestingly enough, the lottery is currently overlooked because the government is gaining tax revenue off of it. However, the more conservative members of parliament want to change this practice, calling it evil.

Proceed with Caution

If you choose to venture onto this topic in a conservative country like Turkey. You are likely to get some great English conversation practice going. However, in a nutshell, you should handle the topic very carefully. A small number of students may not only walk out of your classroom, but may run straight to the administration to complain that you are teaching something very bad. We all love when students complain behind our backs don’t we? In Turkey, I found that most pupils did like playing my fabricated lottery game because the opinion that the lotto is Haram is definitely in the minority. I would suggest that prior to introducing this topic, the teacher know the culture of the classroom and determine whether the upcoming lesson will offend anyone. If it does, then he can turn it into more of a discussion of American culture and the games Americans play. Here in America, instructors would be wise to still be very careful about introducing this topic in the classroom. We should be mindful that some of our students (or their parents) may take offense to something we see as innocuous, like buying a lottery ticket.   

Lesson Plans:

"The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson is a short story, which was written in 1948. It is a story about a lottery held in a small rural town. It seems like a normal and harmless game played by the locals once a year but wait till your students read the surprise ending. This lesson plan examines the story in detail. Your students will find it an interesting project and it will elicit a lot of conversation. This article also gives ideas on teaching this wonderful short story. 

Nevada: The State of Sin?

This is a great lesson plan on what happens when a state legalizes gambling. I had many students who are dying to go to Vegas yet others see it as the pinnacle of sin. Nevertheless, it is a place that everybody has an opinion about.