The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a form of gambling in which people purchase chances to win prizes. Prizes may be money or goods. Lotteries are common in Europe and the United States.

Lottery revenue has funded many projects, including building the New York City hall, repairing bridges and canals, establishing a number of schools, and creating manufacturing industries in the state. Lottery revenues have also provided some funds for noneducational purposes. For example, a lottery in the 18th century raised money for the construction and maintenance of ferries, roads, and canals in the state.

During the immediate post-World War II period, when states had little appetite for raising taxes, lotteries seemed to provide an ideal solution to their budgetary problems. Politicians marketed them as “budgetary miracles,” Cohen writes, and they were widely accepted by voters. Lotteries were supposed to make it possible for governments to keep their services running without raising taxes, and they would do so at the expense of only a few thousand dollars per person in a given year.

But this message was misleading, and even today it remains misleading. Most of the money from lottery tickets ends up in the hands of the ticket-buyers themselves, and it only amounts to a tiny fraction of actual state revenues, by some estimates no more than one percent. And, as is the case with any regressive tax, those who can least afford it end up paying the most in lottery taxes.