New York’s official lottery was established in 1967 following a constitutional amendment that requires all revenues to be used solely for education. Prior to that, the Lottery had generated revenue for non-educational purposes. For example, some lottery proceeds helped build and repair several roads, canals, ferries, and even New York City hall. The New York Times cites other uses of the Lottery’s revenue, including a battery of guns for the defense of Philadelphia and the rebuilding of Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Lottery opponents have long questioned the ethics of state-sanctioned gambling and how much money states stand to gain from it. Among the most vocal critics were devout Protestants, who viewed lottery participation as morally unconscionable. The defenders of the Lottery countered that early America was short on taxation and long on needs for public works, from town fortifications to hospitals. The state was desperate for money, and the Lottery offered a way to raise it without resorting to direct taxes.
The Lottery’s advertising campaigns have been accused of “preying on the poor.” Despite the very low chances of winning, Lottery tickets are promoted in neighborhoods that are disproportionately populated by people of color and poorer Americans. Critics say this leads them to believe that the Lottery is a quick path to wealth. But the reality is that players are continuously paying into a system that will only return their money in the form of small prizes, often less than $100.