The New York Lottery is an official state-run lottery. Proceeds from its operations are used to fund education and other public purposes in the state of New York. The lottery is operated by the state government and is regulated by the state’s Gaming Commission.
Across the country, state lotteries sell millions of tickets every week. While some people are lucky enough to win the big prizes, others lose money. The biggest losers, however, are poor people. Lottery critics have long questioned both the ethics of raising money for state services by gambling and how much states actually stood to gain from it. They hailed from all walks of life, including devout Protestants who viewed state-sanctioned lotteries as morally unconscionable.
In his essay, Cohen points to the rise of the modern lottery in America, as “the exigency of an expanding population, rising inflation, and the cost of a war made state governments short of both tax revenue and funds for infrastructure projects.” Lotteries were popular as a way of getting around those constraints, allowing legislators to avoid raising taxes or cutting public services. They also proved to be popular with voters, even those who were opposed to gambling in general. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were financed in part by lottery proceeds, and the Continental Congress hoped to use one to finance the Revolutionary War.
Today, lottery advertising relies on two messages primarily. The first is to make the experience of purchasing a ticket fun. The second is to emphasize that the money it raises for states is a small fraction of total state revenue. This message obscures the regressivity of the lottery and, in effect, makes it seem like a civic duty to play.