State Budgets and the Lottery


The lottery is a popular form of gambling that raises enormous sums for states. Its defenders argue that the money is a worthy trade-off for state investment in infrastructure and education. But how much do those investments really mean in the context of broader state budgets? And what’s the cost to citizens who buy tickets and lose?

A lottery is a game in which winners are chosen by drawing lots. The prizes vary from small items to large amounts of money. Unlike most games, winning the lottery requires no skill or strategy. The term derives from the Old English word lot, meaning “dividend,” or distribution by lot. People have been using lotteries to allocate goods and services for hundreds of years, from military conscription to kindergarten placements. The term is also used to refer to a gambling scheme in which tokens are sold for a chance to win a prize.

In the US, about 50 percent of adults buy lottery tickets each year. The players are disproportionately poor, less educated, and nonwhite. Those are the people who spend most on tickets, and they’re the ones most likely to benefit from super-sized jackpots, which boost sales but also earn a windfall of free publicity for the games.

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