What is a Lottery?


A lottery is any competition where a prize is awarded to people who pay to play. It can include games where participants have a chance to win by chance alone, and it can also include contests that require skill. Lottery laws are not uniform across the country, but generally the term describes any game where people have a chance to win a prize by paying money.

As early as the nineteen-seventies, Cohen writes, Americans began embracing the fantasy of instant wealth. This fixation on unimaginable wealth corresponded with the disintegration of our national social safety net. The income gap widened, job security and pensions eroded, health-care costs rose, and the nation’s longstanding promise that education and hard work would allow people to better their lives than their parents ceased to be true for many.

State governments, which reap most of the profits from their lotteries, are able to win and retain public approval by stressing the idea that lottery proceeds go toward a worthy cause. But the regressive nature of this argument obscures its real message. It suggests that lotteries are a way for the state to pocket profits and avoid raising taxes on its working-class constituents.

Lottery advocates dismiss long-standing ethical objections by arguing that if people are going to gamble anyway, the government might as well make a profit from them. Moreover, they contend that the lottery’s popularity is not influenced by state governments’ actual fiscal conditions: It’s a popular revenue source even when a state’s budget is in good shape.