The Darker Side of the Lottery

Lottery is a form of gambling in which players pay for tickets, and prizes are awarded based on chance. It is a popular form of gambling, and it’s often described as “a form of taxation without representation.” Lottery has become increasingly common in the United States. As a result, the public has come to accept it as a legitimate source of revenue for state governments.

But there’s a darker side to the lottery. The players who play it tend to be lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite; they spend more on tickets than do middle-class or working-class Americans. They are also more likely to be alcoholics or drug users. In fact, it’s not unusual for one in eight Americans to buy a ticket every week—and many of them do so for years, spending $50 or $100 a week.

Throughout the world, lotteries have long been used to finance private and public projects, from building canals to supplying guns for town militias. In colonial America, the Continental Congress voted to hold a lottery to raise money for the war against the British. It was a failure, but smaller public lotteries continued to raise money for roads and libraries and colleges like Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia, King’s College (now Columbia), and William and Mary.

After it became clear that a lottery could not float most of a state budget, legalization advocates stopped arguing for a statewide silver bullet and instead emphasized a single line item—usually education but sometimes veterans’ benefits or elder care or park maintenance. By using these specific items, they were able to dismiss the long-standing ethical objections to gambling.