The History of the Lottery

A game of chance in which participants pay for tickets and win prizes based on the number of numbers they match with those randomly selected by a machine. There are many kinds of lotteries result sgp, including financial, in which players bet a small sum and try to win big money, as well as “public” ones, in which people compete for things that would otherwise be distributed through more logical means, such as units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a good public school.

Lotteries are ancient—Nero was a fan, and they’re attested to in the Bible, where the casting of lots is used to determine everything from who will become king of Israel to who gets to keep Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. In colonial America, lotteries were common, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling. They helped finance roads, canals, churches, schools, and other public works. They also, in some cases—including those run by George Washington and by a formerly enslaved man who won a lottery prize of human beings in South Carolina—served as a get-out-of-jail card for criminals, offering them a low-risk way to avoid prison time for crimes such as piracy, murder, or treason.

The modern lottery began in the immediate post-World War II period, when a growing awareness of the vast sums to be made in gambling combined with a crisis in state funding. As the population and inflation grew, and the cost of the Vietnam War inflated government spending, it became impossible for states to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services—both options would have been hugely unpopular with voters.

In response, legislators turned to the lottery. New Hampshire passed the first state-run lottery in 1964; thirteen states followed, mostly in the Northeast and the Rust Belt. As the nation’s late-twentieth-century tax revolt intensified, federal money flowing into state coffers declined. But the lottery was not just an answer to fiscal stress; it was a vehicle for a broader cultural belief that a meritocratic future would see each of us wealthier than our parents and that the chances of winning the lottery were simply a matter of hard work.

Defenders of the lottery argue that it’s not a tax on the stupid, that people who play the lottery understand how unlikely it is to win and enjoy it anyway. But Cohen shows that, like all commercial products, lottery sales are responsive to economic fluctuations—lottery revenue increases as incomes fall, unemployment rises, and poverty rates climb, while ad exposure to the games is more heavily concentrated in neighborhoods disproportionately populated by poor, Black, and Latino residents. The lottery may not be a tax on the stupid, but it is a tax on the people who need a bigger safety net to survive. The odds of winning the jackpot are minuscule, but to millions of Americans, the lottery is the only hope of a better tomorrow. And it’s just not working. The American Dream is fading fast.