The Official Lottery

Official lottery is the term used by government agencies to describe a state-sponsored game in which participants can win prizes ranging from cash to goods. These games are generally regulated by state laws, which identify the official purpose of the lottery (i.e., to raise funds for public education), dictate the manner in which lottery revenues are distributed, and set time limits for claiming prizes.

While many Americans have long been willing to gamble on state lotteries, critics have raised concerns about the ethics of gambling to fund public services and about the amount of money states stand to gain. Some, particularly devout Protestants, viewed state-sanctioned lotteries as morally unconscionable.

In the early nineteen-twentieth century, these criticisms gained momentum. As America’s population grew and its war costs increased, the states found it increasingly difficult to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. As a result, the popularity of the lottery grew and by the late eighties, it had become a staple of state budgets.

Jonathan Cohen, the author of “For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America,” argues that the lottery has become a “mechanism of the American dream.” For people who are struggling in the current economy or who face discrimination in the traditional economy, he says, the lottery offers a chance to break the system by winning the big prize. But he also points out that the odds of winning are still extremely low and that the lottery is a “regressive” system that drains resources from lower-income communities.