The Lottery and Public Policy

The lottery is a game in which a player pays a small amount of money for the chance to win a large sum of money. It is typically run by a state government and involves purchasing a ticket with a range of numbers between one and 59. The numbers are then drawn at random. The prize money is awarded to whoever has the most matching numbers. In the United States, most states have legalized lotteries.

While the drawing of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long record in human history (Nero was fond of them, for example) and can be found throughout the Bible, the modern lottery is a rather recent invention. It was first established as a method of raising public funds to finance a variety of projects and is now widely used in various countries around the world.

As Cohen points out, the argument that lotteries provide a “tax free” revenue stream has been an important one in persuading voters to adopt them. However, he points out that the amount of money generated by a lottery is not enough to offset the cost of administering and running it. And once the lottery is established, discussion often shifts away from its general desirability to its specific features and operations, such as alleged compulsive gambling or regressive impact on lower-income groups.

Lotteries are a classic example of the way in which public policy is made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall overview. And once the initial policies are in place, lottery officials have few opportunities to change them. As such, they are likely to inherit policies that will shape the way in which the lottery operates and that they will be dependent upon for revenue.

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