The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a state-sponsored game that offers a small chance to win a large cash prize in exchange for one dollar. Its supporters claim that it increases tax revenues without raising taxes, reduces illegal gambling and helps fund social programs. Critics, however, argue that the lottery encourages addictive gambling behavior and constitutes a regressive tax on lower-income groups.

The history of lotteries in the United States reflects the evolution of public attitudes toward gambling. Early arguments for lotteries focused on the need for “painless” revenue that would allow states to expand their public services without burdening taxpayers with a tax increase or cutting public programs. This argument proved successful in winning the support of state legislatures and the general public.

In 1964, New Hampshire became the first state to establish a lottery. Inspired by its success, other states soon followed. The lottery grew in popularity and is now found in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

While the specifics vary, the overall operation of a state lottery is remarkably similar. The state legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of profits); begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, under constant pressure to raise revenues, gradually expands its offering.

While state-sponsored lotteries are popular, critics contend that they promote addiction, contribute to the rise of organized crime and represent a regressive tax on lower-income communities. They also point to the fact that state governments face an inherent conflict in their desire to raise taxes and their duty to protect the welfare of the community.