As a form of gambling, the lottery is defined by law as “an arrangement in which one or more prizes are allocated to persons by a process that relies wholly on chance.” The arrangement’s objective is to give to all those who wish to participate in it a fair chance of winning a prize.
Cohen, in his book, offers a very clear and readable account of the history of state lotteries. He argues that in the nineteen-sixties, growing awareness of all the money to be made in the lottery business collided with a crisis in state funding. With a growing population and skyrocketing inflation, balancing budgets became increasingly difficult for states. The only way to make ends meet was either to raise taxes or cut services—both options were extremely unpopular with voters.
State lotteries began to appear as a solution to the problem. The first proponents argued that since people were going to gamble anyway, the state might as well get in on the action. It was an argument that disregarded the moral objections to gambling, but it did help lottery advocates avoid a barrage of ethical complaints.
Moreover, lottery commissions have every incentive to tell players and voters about all the good that they’re doing for the state – notwithstanding the fact that most of what they raise is spent on the games themselves, or on administrative expenses. The commissions are not above relying on the psychology of addiction, and they’re certainly not above leveraging their position as a business to keep the gravy train rolling.