Public Benefits of the Lottery


A lottery is a game of chance that provides winners with substantial sums of money. Although the casting of lots has a long history (including in the Bible), the lottery is a relatively new development. In the United States, it began in New Hampshire in 1964 and was quickly adopted by other states.

Since the earliest days of colonial America, lotteries have played an important role in raising funds for public works projects. The first was a 29,000-pound lottery that raised money for the Virginia Company, while others helped to fund roads, wharves, and even Harvard and Yale. George Washington even sponsored a lottery to raise money for the army.

Despite the fact that they are a form of gambling, lotteries enjoy broad public support. The main argument that state governments use to promote their lotteries is that the proceeds provide a source of “painless” revenue, because people voluntarily spend money on tickets rather than having it imposed by a government tax.

However, this argument is flawed. It ignores the broader social costs of promoting gambling. It also fails to recognize that lottery revenues are often used by governments to finance unpopular programs, including those for the poor and problem gamblers. Finally, it overlooks the fact that lottery players contribute billions to state coffers that could be better used to pay for things such as education, retirement, and health care.

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