The Unsavory Side of the Lottery

Lotteries have long had a certain appeal. They are, by their nature, a way of allocating relatively small amounts of money to a group of people based on an entirely random process.

But they also have an unsavory side. They are a tool of choice for the state to raise revenue. And they can be exploited to achieve any number of governmental goals, from building town fortifications to buying slaves.

Typically, a state establishes a lottery monopoly for itself by legislation; licenses a private firm to run it in exchange for a fixed percentage of the proceeds; starts operations with a few relatively simple games; and progressively expands its offerings as revenue demands grow. But even with this expansion, the lottery’s core purpose remains unchanged. Its prize is still death.

As a result, lottery advocates, no longer able to argue that the lottery would float a state’s budget, started to rely on its ability to fund a single line item, usually some form of public service–often education but often veterans’ benefits or elder care–that voters wanted their government to spend more money on. This strategy was a win-win for many states.

It did not hurt that the lottery was popular with the general public, with a majority of people polled reporting that they play it at least occasionally. But it is not hard to understand why some people oppose this arrangement. From the look of lottery ads to the math behind the tickets, every aspect of this game is designed to make players addicted.