The Official Lottery

A lottery is a system of prize draws for a chance to win a fixed sum. The first modern government-run lottery emerged in 1934, and New Hampshire became the first state to legalize it in 1964. Today, US lotteries are generally multi-state operations, and offer several different games including a three-digit game that is similar to numbers games; instant games such as scratch-off tickets; and traditional drawing games like Keno.

When the lottery was first introduced, critics raised concerns both about the ethics of funding public services through gambling and the amount of money that states stood to gain. Many of these critics were devout Protestants who viewed state-sanctioned gambling as morally unconscionable. They also questioned whether people would actually buy tickets, and argued that gambling revenue did not necessarily translate into much in the way of actual public services.

Lottery opponents were largely unsuccessful in halting the spread of state-run lotteries. As the nation entered a late-twentieth-century tax revolt, states began casting around for budgetary solutions that did not offend an anti-tax electorate, and lotteries proved to be a popular solution.

Despite its popularity, the official lottery is regressive, and takes a particularly harsh toll on poorer citizens. This is because the money that people pay into the lottery goes to the state, which then distributes it as it sees fit. Often, this means that lottery proceeds are used to pay for services that the state has decided to eliminate or reduce, such as public parks and elder care.