The Official Lottery

Official Lottery is the procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among many people by chance, using a random selection process. Unlike other gambling types of lottery, where payment is required in order to win, state-run lotteries offer prizes without charge. Modern lotteries include those used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random procedure, and jury selection.

Unlike the earliest forms of gambling, which involved only small prizes such as food or livestock, the modern lottery is a major industry and generates billions in revenue each year for governments and private businesses alike. Nevertheless, it is still largely unregulated. While some state governments endorse the game, most do not oversee it or limit its marketing. As a result, the games have been criticized for encouraging gambling addiction and poverty, especially among minorities.

In the nineteen-sixties, as state budget crises escalated under the burden of a growing population and rising inflation, politicians were searching for ways to balance their books that did not enrage anti-tax voters or cut services. The answer, they hoped, was to legalize the lottery.

Its proponents argued that because most lottery players would be gambling anyway, the government might as well collect the profits and use them for things the public needed. This argument swept the country, and it helped numb the ethical objections of some. In the end, states embraced lotteries as “budgetary miracles,” Cohen writes, providing them with cash to maintain existing services and avoid punishing voters with tax increases.