The Lottery


The lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to win a prize. Unlike gambling in casinos, lottery winnings are determined by chance. In the United States, state governments run lotteries. The profits from these lotteries are used to fund public projects.

In the 1960s, a number of states adopted lotteries. Many of these states faced budget crises and a public that was wary of raising taxes. Cohen writes that politicians looked at lotteries as a way to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars without arousing the voters’ suspicion of tax hikes.

Lotteries have a broad appeal. Almost 60% of adults report playing them in the states where they are legal. They attract a variety of specific constituencies, including convenience stores (which sell scratch-off tickets); lottery suppliers (heavy contributors to state political campaigns are reported); and teachers (where a portion of the revenues is earmarked for education). The emergence of the lottery has transformed American culture in profound ways. It has shifted the way we think about money and power.

Some critics of the lottery characterize it as a “tax on stupidity,” suggesting that players do not understand how unlikely they are to win or that they enjoy it anyway. Others have criticized it for its regressive effect on lower-income groups. These criticisms are not without basis. But lottery advocates argue that, in fact, the odds of winning are not affected by income or social class. For example, one-in-three million odds are just as bad for rich people as they are for poor ones.