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Lottery critics, who hailed from both sides of the political aisle and all walks of life, questioned both the morality of public services funded by gambling and the amount that state governments stood to gain from lottery proceeds. In many cases, they argued that people were going to gamble anyway, and so the government might as well pocket the profits.
The new advocates of the lottery, by contrast, dismissed longstanding ethical objections to the enterprise and emphasized the fact that state governments could do more with the money they raised than they could otherwise afford. In addition, they inflated the impact of lottery revenue on state budgets. Using the example of California, they suggested that the lottery brought in so much money that the education budget could be entirely paid for by the prize pool, which would leave plenty to cover operating costs and fund other state initiatives as well.
State-sponsored lottery advertising promotes the idea that playing is a civic duty, a kind of self-respecting act that allows citizens to show their patriotism by supporting public institutions, even if the odds are slim that they’ll win. That message may appeal to those who feel compelled by an inexplicable and sometimes perverse human impulse to play. But it also plays into the notion that winning the lottery is a meritocratic way to build wealth, which in an age of growing inequality and limited social mobility has become an outright lie.