The Lottery and Its Critics

The idea of making decisions and determining fates by the casting of lots has a long record in human history, but lotteries for material gain are much more recent. In fact, the first recorded lottery was held by Augustus Caesar to raise money for municipal repairs in Rome. However, the modern state lottery did not emerge until 1967 in New Hampshire. Other states quickly followed suit, attracted by the promise of huge revenue streams and a way to fund public services without raising taxes.

The lottery has developed a broad base of general supporters as well as a number of specific constituencies: convenience store operators; lotteries suppliers (heavy contributions to state political campaigns are often reported); teachers (lottery revenues are frequently earmarked for education) and other government employees; the middle class (studies suggest that a substantial portion of players come from middle-income neighborhoods), among others.

However, critics charge that the marketing of lottery is deceptive, with a tendency to present misleading information about odds and prizes; to inflate the value of jackpot prize amounts (lotto jackpots are paid in annuity payments over 30 years, allowing inflation and taxes to significantly erode the actual cash value); and to lure low-income communities with a promise of instant riches. As such, they argue, the lottery is a form of predatory capitalism that exacerbates poverty and inequality.