The official lottery is a game of chance where players pay a ticket fee to place their bets on numbers chosen by random selection. The winning ticket is usually worth a prize, which may be in the form of cash or other valuables.
The history of the lottery dates back to medieval times, when towns used them as a way to fortify their defenses or provide charity to the poor. These games eventually made their way into the modern United States, where they are still played today.
They have also become an important source of revenue for state governments, raising as much as one per cent of total state revenue. But they have two serious problems, Cohen argues: They make it harder to pass much needed tax increases; and they are regressive, taking a larger share of funds from the poor than from the rich.
In addition, Cohen argues that lotteries often serve as a means to encourage gambling addictions, by exploiting the psychological appeal of big jackpots. They also discourage normal taxation, by reducing the need for voters to consider the unpopular alternative of hiking taxes or cutting services.
In the final chapter of “For a Dollar and a Dream,” Cohen offers a strong case against lotteries, arguing that they are inherently regressive, they promote predatory gambling practices, and they are harmful to the public good. But he also notes that they remain popular with many Americans, and that it is unlikely they will ever be repealed.