The official lottery, like many other types of games, is a form of gambling that allows players to purchase a chance to win a prize. There are specific laws that govern the way this type of gambling takes place, and it’s important to understand them before playing. There are also laws that limit where and when you can play, so it’s best to consult your state’s lottery laws before starting.
The modern lottery is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged in the nineteen-sixties, writes Cohen. At that time, states faced a budget crisis that stemmed from declining economic prosperity and increasing war costs. Balancing the state’s books became impossible without hiking taxes or cutting services, and both options sounded unpalatable to voters.
Lotteries, Cohen argues, offered politicians “a miracle solution” to their dilemma, in which they could generate the revenue necessary to maintain current services while not angering their constituents. They promoted the idea of winning huge sums of money as a painless alternative to taxation, and this was enough to make the lotteries seem legitimate in the eyes of voters.
The truth is, however, that the chances of winning are extremely low. And this is a central problem with the lottery system as it is currently constituted, writes Cohen. Because the lottery is heavily marketed in low income communities—which are disproportionately made up of Black and Latino Americans—it becomes more of a regressive tax on poor people than it would be otherwise, transferring wealth out of these marginalized groups.