The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a system by which states and other government entities raise funds through games of chance. The proceeds are often used for public works or education. In New York, for example, more than 34 billion dollars have been generated since 1967. The lottery is regulated by state law, which provides for the operation and accounting of the games; a distribution of the proceeds; time limits for claiming prizes; and activities that are considered illegal. Each national/state lottery also has its own set of rules, and these are typically published on the lottery’s website.

Cohen’s story begins with the fact that states, in desperate need of revenue but averse to raising taxes, have long turned to lotteries. But that need was not the only reason for launching a lottery; it was also a belief that gambling is inevitable, so states might as well take advantage of that fact by offering games of chance.

Throughout the early years of legalized lotteries, advocates sold the concept by claiming that a lottery would float most of a state’s budget and provide a variety of public services, including education, elder care, public parks, and aid to veterans. But when the first lotteries produced results on the order of a few million dollars or less, those figures put the lie to that vision and forced legalization advocates to adopt other strategies. Instead of arguing that a lottery would subsidize all of a state’s business, they began to focus on a single line item that was popular and nonpartisan–most commonly, education.