The Pros and Cons of Official Lottery Programs

New York Lottery offers state-sponsored games like Take5 and Mega Millions. Proceeds go towards funding public services and infrastructure, like education or roads. Unlike commercial casinos and other gambling establishments, which are regulated at the federal level, official lotteries are controlled by individual states. They are legal and subject to laws pertaining to fraud, forgery and theft.

Those who oppose the lottery often question the ethics of government-sponsored gambling and point out that even without it, people already gamble. They are quick to point out that the same numbers appear over and over again in every drawing, making the odds of winning a jackpot essentially impossible. They also accuse pro-lottery advocates of wildly inflating the impact lottery revenue has on state budgets.

In fact, Cohen writes, lottery revenues cover only a small percentage of most states’ budgets, at most five per cent of the education sector, for example. And even when the prize amounts grow to apparently newsworthy levels, they are quickly absorbed by players.

The modern lottery’s roots are in the eighteenth century, when colonial America, a place that Cohen describes as “defined politically by an aversion to taxation,” became desperately short of funds. To fund everything from churches to canals, the colonies turned to lotteries. These lotteries were often run by the local colonial legislatures, but they also helped to finance Harvard and Yale, as well as the Continental Congress’s attempt to raise money to fight the French and Indian War.