The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a state-sponsored game of chance in which participants purchase chances to win prizes ranging from a few dollars to millions of dollars. In the United States, there are many different kinds of lotteries, including those that award cash prizes, merchandise, real estate and automobiles. Lotteries can also be conducted for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by drawing names from a list of registered voters, and the selection of jurors for trial. The New York State lottery, for example, offers a number of multi-state draw games like Powerball and Cash4Life as well as in-state games such as numbers, Take 5, and Quick Draw.

Cohen explains that the modern American lottery owes its origin to a peculiar mix of circumstance and politics. In the nineteen-sixties, a population boom and rising inflation caused state budgets to run into trouble. Adding new programs and maintaining existing ones became increasingly expensive; balancing the books required either raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were politically unpopular with voters.

In response, New Hampshire in 1964 became the first state to introduce a modern lottery. A majority of the revenue that it raises is used for public education, which seems a sensible and reasonable use of money. However, when put in the context of overall state revenues, lottery money is a drop in the bucket, accounting for just 1 to 2 percent. In addition, the message that lottery money benefits the state is problematic.