New York’s Official Lottery

The New York State Lottery began in 1967 with the first and foremost slogan: “Your Chance of a Lifetime to Help Education.” Over 34 billion dollars have been generated since then to help fund New York schools.

A key aspect of Cohen’s argument is that, while there are many reasons states enacted lotteries—there’s the historical story about all the gambling going on in the thirteen colonies, for instance, or the political philosophy behind it based on the idea that it is inevitable that people will play games of chance, so why not offer them and make some money?—the biggest reason is that, by the nineteen-sixties, a time of booming growth and prosperity, it had become increasingly difficult to balance a state’s budget without raising taxes or cutting services, which would be punished at the polls. Lotteries seemed like a way to create revenue seemingly out of thin air.

When legalization advocates found that they could no longer sell the lottery as a statewide silver bullet that would float most of a state’s budget, they began to shift their pitch in subtle ways. Instead of arguing that it would pay for a broad range of government services, they would focus on one line item—typically education but sometimes elder care, public parks, or aid for veterans—that was popular and nonpartisan. That approach made it easy for voters to support the lottery because it wouldn’t appear to be a vote against gambling but, rather, for something that most everyone agreed was important.