The Official Lottery

Official Lottery

The lottery is a state-run game in which the odds are always against you. But it still appeals to people, especially those who live near the poverty line, according to an expert in gambling addiction. “Lottery players are continuously paying into a system that, in most cases, gives them nothing in return,” said Jonathan Cohen, author of For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America. The money is funneled into state coffers, where legislators can decide how to spend it. Cohen also says the lottery preys on vulnerable populations, including those whose jobs are in declining industries and those who have faced discrimination in traditional economies.

During the early days of American state lotteries, Cohen writes, politicians saw them as “budgetary miracles, a way for states to make hundreds of millions appear seemingly out of thin air.” The founding fathers liked lotteries, too; Benjamin Franklin ran one to fund Boston’s Faneuil Hall and George Washington ran one to help build a road over a mountain pass in Virginia.

But as lottery commissions grew bigger and became more lucrative, critics emerged on all sides of the political spectrum. Among them were devout Protestants, who felt that state-sponsored gambling was morally wrong; and voters, who resented the notion of having their tax dollars go to things like the Sydney Opera House or welfare payments to the poor.