Lottery Funds in Covenant Scholarships

I think most Christians agree that gambling is either foolish or sinful, if not both. The Covenant College student contract states that students who gamble may be subjected to disciplinary action, and the college’s alliance with the National Collegiate Athletic Association stipulates that there be no betting on the games. Then, according to Pastor John Piper, it is poor stewardship of God-given resources we should be using to better others and an improper focus on material wealth. Yet Covenant’s Help Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarship incorporates lottery funds. Can this be right?

First, what is the HOPE scholarship? Beth Bailey, Director of Financial Aid, explains “The HOPE scholarship is an academic achievement scholarship that is offered to Georgia residents…Here at Covenant we have 150 students who received a total of $524k in Hope/Zell Miller [an associate scholarship] funds…Each…receives around $4500 in Hope scholarship and the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant.” Dan Wykoff, Vice President for Finance and Operations, adds that the government, not Covenant, provides the scholarship—out of tax funds, which include taxes on the lottery.

If that funding disappeared, 150 excellent students would probably have to leave Covenant. In this bad economy, alternate funding would be hard to find.

The question is, “Should Covenant not accept students who require the HOPE scholarship? Should Covenant reject funds that stem from the lottery?” Since the HOPE scholarship is made up of tax funds and governmentally administered to students who seek the scholarship, the college  may not choose what the scholarship includes. Covenant therefore violates no policy and does not express support for gambling by accepting these funds. So, no. Covenant should continue to accept recipients of the HOPE Scholarship and not reject funds that stem so indirectly from the lottery.

Suppose the school did stop accepting the HOPE scholarship. This would not put money back into the hands of the gamblers, who are generally pretty poor. Nor would it make an effective statement against betting, as the funds come not from the lottery but from state taxes on the lottery. And the lottery should be taxed, like any other business; if it were not, more lotteries would arise, as the cost of running one would decrease. To reject lottery funds that come out of taxes is to reject lottery taxes, not lottery profits. Rather than aiding the poor or promoting Christian attitudes toward gambling, such rejection would only make it harder for 150 talented students to receive a solid Christian education.

By accepting HOPE scholarship funding, Covenant College does not support gambling, violates no policy it holds its students to, or deprive gamblers in any way.  Refusing the funds would make no useful statement and instead deny (most probably) 150 gifted pupils the college education they desire.