What is the Lottery?

Every week millions of Americans play the lottery, contributing billions to the country’s economy. People fantasize about what they would do if they won: a luxurious home world, a trip around the globe or closing all debts. Yet the truth is that winning the jackpot is almost impossible.

Lottery is a form of gambling that involves drawing numbers at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing a state or national lottery. Lottery is a popular form of entertainment and is often used for social purposes, such as raising funds for charity.

Cohen starts his story in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all that money could be won in the lottery collided with a crisis in state funding. Amid a growing population, high inflation, and rising costs from wars and aging Baby Boomers, state budgets were in dire trouble. Balancing them meant raising taxes or cutting services, which were unpopular with voters.

To solve this dilemma, legislators in states that didn’t already have sales or income taxes turned to the lottery as a way to wrangle hundreds of millions of dollars from thin air. They claimed that the lottery was a “budgetary miracle,” allowing them to maintain their existing services without raising taxes and risking retaliation at the polls. This narrative dismissed longstanding ethical objections to state-sponsored gambling, and it gave moral cover to people who approved of lotteries for other reasons. Among them were many white voters who thought that legalizing lotteries would make it easier for police to prosecute Black numbers players, whom they saw as a major source of friction with urban communities.