The Official Lottery – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Official lottery is a form of gambling in which people pay money for the chance to win a prize, usually a large sum of cash. Lotteries are typically state-controlled and regulated, although some private companies also operate them.

The lottery’s popularity continues to surge, with Americans spending an estimated $100 billion a year on tickets. But the history of public and private lotteries is a long and rocky one.

Lotteries were first organized in the 1748, when Benjamin Franklin started a lottery to raise funds for Philadelphia’s militia against French attacks. John Hancock ran a lottery to fund Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and George Washington used a lottery to build a road across a mountain pass in Virginia.

Today, the lottery industry is a multi-billion dollar business that’s primarily run as a for-profit enterprise. “The lottery commission itself has every incentive to tell players and voters all the good it’s doing,” Matheson says. That’s especially true when it comes to promoting the large jackpots, which tend to attract more attention than the overall odds of winning.

But the lure of a big payday can backfire in unexpected ways. Especially during economic downturns, when many people are struggling to find work and get ahead in their lives, lottery ads can dangle the promise of instant riches — even though the chances of that happening are abysmal. Those ads target vulnerable people, such as Black and brown Americans who are already struggling with low incomes and limited social mobility.