The Official Lottery

A state-sanctioned game of chance in which tickets are sold for a prize determined by the drawing of numbers or other symbols. The prizes can be cash or goods or services. More than 30 states operate lotteries, and the games are administered by state agencies. State legislatures set up these agencies and establish the rules for participating in a lottery, such as the amount of time after the drawing in which winners must claim their prizes.

Government-sponsored lotteries have become a major source of revenue in the United States and elsewhere, with a high proportion of proceeds going to education, public safety, and other public benefits. But the popularity of these games has also spawned fierce criticism. Opponents of the lottery argue that it is immoral and unfair to finance state services by gambling. They question the amount of money that governments actually stand to gain and criticize the game as a scam that skirts taxation. They come from all political and religious backgrounds, including devout Protestants who regard government-sanctioned gambling as morally unconscionable.

Supporters of the lottery counter that it is an alternative to taxes and a way for state governments to bring in revenue without upsetting anti-tax voters. They also point out that the public loves to gamble, and they claim that the proceeds from a lottery can be tapped into that interest in a more responsible and honest manner than the shady underworld of illegal gambling and shadowy bookmakers. Recent ad campaigns have wildly inflated the effect that lottery revenue has on state budgets. For example, in California, where a successful lottery initiative was passed after a slick campaign that promised to pump five per cent of the state’s education budget into K-12 funding, the actual amount of lottery money now devoted to public schools is only about one per cent of the total.