The Official Lottery

A lottery is a game in which people try to win a prize by matching a series of numbers or symbols. Official lotteries are operated by state governments, regulated by laws that specify how the games should be conducted. In addition to regulating how the prizes are awarded, these laws may also establish rules for player eligibility, how long tickets must be held prior to drawing, documentation required for winning, and other factors. The vast majority of states have a legal lottery.

Until recently, the public view of lotteries was mostly negative. In the nineteenth century, a wave of religious and moral sensibilities turned against gambling, in general, as well as the notion that government should promote it.

The first legalized lotteries were hailed as a painless alternative to paying taxes, and it was indeed true that they brought in far more than state governments expected, but only about two per cent of the money needed to fund many important state programs. Even in the best years, it remained unwise for a state to rely on lotto proceeds to fund its budget.

There are several popular moral arguments against the lottery, however. One is that it constitutes a form of regressive taxation, in which different taxpayers pay at a higher rate than others do. The other is that it preys on the illusory hopes of the poor and working classes, and is thus unworthy of a civilized society.