The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a state-controlled gambling game that raises money for public programs like education. Many states offer their own lotteries, and some even allow online play. The New York Lottery, for example, has been around since 1967 and is overseen by the state Gaming Commission. The money raised by the New York Lottery goes toward public education.

Cohen traces the development of modern lotteries back to the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness about all the money that can be made in the gambling business collided with a crisis in state funding. As population and inflation climbed, it became increasingly difficult for states to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services—both of which were unpopular with voters.

In the beginning, lotteries were a popular way for cities and towns to finance projects like building town fortifications or providing charity for the poor. In fact, the founding fathers were big believers in the idea: Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to fund a militia for defense against French attack in Philadelphia; John Hancock used one to help build Boston’s Faneuil Hall; and George Washington ran a lottery to fund the construction of a road over Virginia’s mountain pass.

Despite the success of these early lotteries, they soon faded away as their popularity waned. They lost ground to speculative investments and to illegal betting operations run by organized crime syndicates. They also faced competition from private enterprises that were more savvy in marketing and advertising. Additionally, the growth of the middle class in Europe and the United States saw fewer families have the disposable income needed to participate.