Lottery is one of the most popular forms of gambling, with participants betting on the chance of winning vast sums. But the chances of winning are incredibly slim, and even those who do win often find that their luck doesn’t last. They might have won the jackpot, but they’ve also lost their jobs or a loved one or had to move to a less desirable neighborhood.
The first recorded lotteries were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and the poor. They were popular with both the public and the wealthy, and hailed as a painless form of taxation.
Today, lottery games advertise their jumbo jackpots on billboards and radio ads, luring people to play with the hope of striking it big. It’s a dangerous game, writes Adam Cohen in the New York Times, that plays off people’s desire to be able to make ends meet, their irrational belief that they are better than the masses, and the American dream of upward mobility that posits that hard work will allow them to get ahead.
Advocates of state-run lotteries try to counter such concerns by arguing that, since people will gamble regardless, the government might as well take advantage of their interest and profit from it. But this logic doesn’t withstand scrutiny. As Cohen points out, when states legalized the lottery in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, it became clear that they weren’t using the money to help all state budgets—instead, they earmarked it for one line item, invariably some version of education but occasionally elder care or public parks or military veterans’ assistance.