Lottery is a fixture in American society, with people spending upwards of $100 billion on tickets every year. And, as it turns out, it’s also the most popular form of gambling. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. It’s a lot of money, and most of those people will end up losing it. And the lottery’s role in raising revenue for states may be more troubling than it seems at first glance.
In the immediate post-World War II period, America was able to expand its social safety net and pay for things like college tuition without especially onerous taxes on middle and working class families. But that arrangement began to crumble in the nineteen-sixties, when inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War made it difficult for states to balance their budgets without either raising taxes or cutting services. In order to keep their programs running, and inspired by all the illegal gambling they saw around them, many of those states turned to the lottery.
The history of the lottery dates back to ancient times, when the casting of lots was used to determine everything from who would receive a royal marriage to what God wanted to do with Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. In the modern era, the practice has evolved into a game in which people buy numbered tickets and are awarded prizes based on the results of a random drawing.
Despite the fact that a majority of people who participate in the lottery will not win, it is still a hugely popular activity in a world that has become increasingly focused on winning, and on making money. There is, of course, this inextricable human impulse to gamble, but the biggest problem with the lottery is that it is dangling an almost impossible promise of instant wealth in a time when the average income is stagnant and social mobility remains low.