The Dangers of the Lottery

Lottery is the most popular form of gambling in America, bringing in an estimated $100 billion dollars a year. It is promoted by state governments as a way to raise money for education and other public purposes, and it has won broad public support. However, the state lottery is not a source of painless revenue for the general public, and it is not without its costs and dangers.

Modern state lotteries began in New Hampshire in 1964 and have spread rapidly, with 37 states now operating them. They follow remarkably similar patterns: the state establishes a monopoly for itself (by legislation or licensing to a private firm); chooses a relatively small number of relatively simple games to begin with; and, due to pressure to increase revenues, progressively expands the lottery into keno and video poker as well as additional traditional games.

Lotteries are designed as entertainment and are sold to a very broad range of people. In addition, they take in far more than they pay out, and the money spent on tickets is often borrowed or derived from credit cards. As a result, they promote irresponsible spending habits and can lead to debt and bankruptcy.

State lotteries have won popular support in part because they are seen as a way to finance public projects without raising taxes or cutting other government programs. But studies have found that the popularity of the lottery is not tied to a state’s actual fiscal condition, and that the poor are disproportionately less likely to play than are the rich.