The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a game in which participants purchase chances, called tickets, for prizes such as money or goods. Prizes are awarded based on a random drawing or selection process. Some lotteries are state-run; others are run by private, nonprofit organizations. In the United States, most states have a lottery. In addition, some cities, counties, and other localities have their own lotteries. The lottery has become a popular source of public funding for a wide range of projects.

In Cohen’s telling, the modern-day lottery started in the nineteen-sixties when awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state budgeting. As America’s prosperity waned and the costs of maintaining services soared, legislators faced the difficult choice of either hiking taxes or cutting services. Lotteries, as Cohen puts it, seemed like “budgetary miracles.” By allowing voters to choose between gambling and a host of services, they could avoid raising taxes and fending off voter revolts.

Lottery supporters began arguing that a lottery would cover only a single line item, invariably education, but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid for veterans. That strategy helped defuse critics on both sides of the political spectrum, arguing that a vote for a lottery was not a vote for gambling but for a specific government service.

But the broader point is that, no matter how much they benefit education or other government services, state lotteries are regressive in nature. They take money from poor people and give it disproportionately to middle-class and upper-class families, the Howard Center finds.