The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a procedure for distributing something, usually money or prizes, among a large number of people by chance. The earliest state-sanctioned lotteries were government-sponsored games of chance in which players paid a consideration (money, property, or services) for the right to win a prize. These lotteries, which are the basis of modern state-run gambling, have long been controversial. Critics have questioned both the ethics of funding public services through gambling and the amount of money states really stand to gain from them. They have also criticized the way in which lottery games are designed to encourage gamblers and to exploit them by enticing them with high jackpots, even as they deceive players about the likelihood of winning.

State legislators in the late twentieth century began searching for ways to balance budgets that did not enrage an increasingly tax-averse electorate. In many cases, they found that their best solution was a lottery.

In the early days of lotteries, advocates argued that the new revenue would float a single line item, usually education but sometimes such services as elder care or public parks, and urged voters to support it not because they supported gambling but because they did so in order to promote a worthy cause. As the popularity of lotteries grew, however, it became difficult to sell them on the grounds that they could cover entire state budgets. So advocates began to shift their arguments. Instead of arguing that a lottery would save money for education, they started to argue that it would pay for some other service that was popular and nonpartisan—and often aimed to appeal to the religious sensibilities of their constituents.