A lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers or symbols are drawn to determine the winner. Historically, governments have run lotteries to raise funds for public goods and services, such as roads, education, and health care. Today, most American lotteries are run by private organizations. Regardless of their origin, lotteries all offer similar games and prizes. In this article, we will discuss the official lottery, a game that is played to win a cash prize.
The history of the official lottery begins with a period in American politics that Cohen describes as “the great fiscal crisis.” As the nineteen-sixties wore on, state coffers were emptying under the strain of an expanding population, soaring inflation, and the cost of the Vietnam War. Politicians were faced with the difficult choice of raising taxes or cutting public services, and both options were wildly unpopular with voters.
In the face of this crisis, legislators looked to the gambling industry for a miracle solution. They were convinced that state-run lotteries would be able to fill government coffers without raising tax rates, thus relieving them of the necessity to do either. They were wrong. The first legalized state lotteries quickly proved to be a fiasco, with proceeds barely reaching the millions of dollars that proponents had imagined. What’s more, lottery proceeds tended to favor rich people and business interests over low-income families.