Does the Lottery Prey on the Economically Disadvantaged?


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the lottery is a game of chance. A popular pastime, it is played by individuals who purchase numbered tickets in order to win a prize. Although many people consider the lottery to be a harmless way to spend money, there are those who believe it preys on the economically disadvantaged, a group that is least able to afford gambling.

The origin of the lottery can be traced back to the ancient practice of casting lots. The casting of lots was used in a variety of ways, from choosing the winner of a battle to determining who would keep Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. Later, the lottery became a popular form of gambling. It was especially popular in the seventeenth century, when the Low Countries developed their first state-sponsored lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and charity for the poor. The popularity of the lottery grew so widespread that, by the fourteen-hundreds, it was commonplace in England as well.

State lotteries are a popular form of gambling and are available in most states. The winners can choose from a wide variety of prizes, including cash, cars, and even houses. The lottery is also a very profitable enterprise for the state, with the profits being poured back into the economy and allowing the state to fund a variety of public projects.

According to Cohen, the modern incarnation of the lottery began in the nineteen-sixties when growing awareness of all the money to be made in the gambling business collided with a crisis in state funding. Faced with growing population and inflation, increasing costs for the war in Vietnam, and soaring welfare benefits, many states were unable to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. The popularity of the lottery was an attractive alternative that did not enrage anti-tax voters.

Despite the fact that there are no guaranteed ways to win, the odds of winning the lottery are very high. The probability of winning the jackpot is one in ten million. The odds of winning the smaller prizes are much lower, but they still make it worth playing for a shot at a life-changing sum of money.

In addition to paying out winnings, state lottery funds go toward supporting centers for gambling addiction and recovery and enhancing state infrastructure, such as roadwork, bridge work, and police force. The rest of the money goes into a general fund, and each state can decide how to distribute it. In 2010, for example, Minnesota put some of the money into the environment and natural resources trust fund to help ensure water quality and wildlife regulations, while Pennsylvania puts its lottery earnings into programs for seniors, such as free transportation and rent rebates. This gives the state a degree of flexibility that other forms of taxation cannot offer.