Official lottery is a game of chance where people have a one-in-six-million chance of winning a prize. States sponsor lotteries to raise money for a variety of purposes, including public education, infrastructure and social services. Between 1964 and 2019, state-sponsored lotteries have collected $502 billion in ticket sales. But when that figure is put in the context of overall state revenue, it’s a drop in the bucket.
Lottery opponents have argued that it’s unethical for governments to fund their operations through gambling, and that the money states gain from lotteries ends up benefiting certain groups of citizens more than others. These critics have hailed from all walks of life, including devout Protestants who viewed government-sponsored gambling as morally unconscionable.
Supporters argue that, in the immediate post-World War II period, many states lacked adequate revenue to finance public services. They decided to enact lotteries as an easy way to raise funds without raising taxes, which they saw as a painful burden on working class families.
But that logic is flawed. It doesn’t account for the fact that most lottery winnings go to those who play regularly and irrationally, who often have quote-unquote systems they follow, like buying tickets only at specific stores at specific times of day, and who choose their numbers based on a mix of irrational and sensible factors. It also doesn’t take into account that the percentage of lottery proceeds that actually go to a state is, by most estimates, less than 1 percent of overall state revenue.