The official lottery is an organized game of chance that is operated by a state or by a consortium of states. Its main games are Mega Millions and Powerball, both of which offer jackpot prizes in the millions. There are also scratch-off games, which involve drawing numbers in an attempt to win cash prizes.
Throughout history, governments have used lotteries to raise funds for public works projects. In the United States, a longtime trend was to fund schools and colleges partly through lottery proceeds.
When the national recession of the nineteen-sixties and seventies hit, many states struggled to maintain services without hiking taxes or cutting programs. This meant that politicians had to find revenue-generating sources that could be counted on, a task made easier by the widespread belief that lottery games were a safe way to make money without raising taxes.
As Cohen explains, this approach to funding public goods was born out of necessity; early America was a country that was short on revenue and long on the need for public works, and the lottery became a popular means to raise money.
However, as Cohen notes, this was a dangerously simplistic assumption: “Much of the money that was spent on the lottery went toward regressive schemes to encourage gambling addictions and discourage normal taxation.” In fact, the state lotteries that existed in the nineteenth century were often corrupt.
In addition, the regressive nature of the games made them difficult to regulate. The result was a proliferation of predatory practices, such as claiming that winning tickets were worth nothing to the winner.