The Official Lottery

Lotteries are games of chance in which players pay a small amount to purchase a ticket that contains numbers. The numbers are then drawn by machines and winners receive a prize, often a large sum of money. People are encouraged to play the lottery by state governments, which regulate and promote it. They are a major source of revenue for some states. They are also popular among the wealthy, and defenders argue that they help to reduce illegal gambling.

In the early nineteenth century, lottery games were used to finance everything from public works projects to university endowments. By the nineteen sixties, however, America had entered a period of fiscal crisis, and many politicians were facing a dilemma: how to balance budgets while maintaining services and keeping taxes low. As Cohen writes, “In this climate of tax revolt, the lottery proved a budgetary miracle.”

The modern version of the lottery consists of a series of drawings in which winning tickets are selected by computers or other methods. Prizes range from cash to goods and services. The winners are announced in the news and on television, and jackpots frequently grow to record-breaking amounts. This attention draws new players and generates free publicity that increases sales.

Critics point out that the lottery is regressive, with lower-income Americans spending more of their incomes on tickets than higher-income Americans. They also argue that the marketing of the lottery encourages addiction by promoting risky behaviors and by promoting the notion that life is a game to be played for prizes.