Throughout history, people have used lotteries to raise money for public projects. The first known examples date back to the fifteenth century, when town officials in the Low Countries would hold public lotteries to finance a range of activities from building town fortifications to giving charity.
In the modern United States, state governments have continued to depend on the lottery to raise revenue. But while they can provide funds for important services, they also encourage gambling addiction and discourage normal taxation.
Regressive, Predatory, and Prohibitive
One of the most pernicious aspects of the lottery industry is its tendency to disproportionately target lower-income communities and minority groups. This happens because state lottery retailers, who sell tickets to the public, are primarily found in low-income neighborhoods.
A recent investigation by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland has revealed that these retailers are staffed by people who typically live in poverty, and they tend to be primarily black or Hispanic.
As a result, the state lottery industry tends to exacerbate social issues and foster addictions among poor and vulnerable populations. This is particularly true for those who are unable to pay for the game themselves, such as those living with disabilities or who have a family member who has a gambling problem.
In his book, “For a Dollar and a Dream,” David Cohen concludes that “the modern state lottery should not exist in the United States” for the reasons mentioned above. But he points to a number of other problems as well.