The Ugly Underbelly of the Lottery

Lottery has long been an essential part of state governments’ toolkits for raising money, whether it’s to build roads or libraries, colleges and hospitals. It’s a way to make money without onerous taxes, which are often passed on to the poor and working class. It’s not only a way to fund public infrastructure, but also to raise funds for local government and private projects. The first lotteries were held in Europe by town councils looking for a quick source of cash, while colonists used them to raise money for the war of independence.

But there is an ugly underbelly to the lottery, and it’s based in the fact that people just like to gamble. And while there is an inextricable human impulse to play, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s a regressive system and an addictive one at that. Billboards proclaiming Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots dangle the promise of instant riches in an era of inequality and limited social mobility.

Lotteries are also big business, and their advertising necessarily focuses on persuading people to spend their hard-earned money on tickets. This inevitably has negative consequences for the poor, problem gamblers and others, but it’s difficult to control when a business model is so reliant on a particular product. State lotteries are not subject to the same regulatory bodies as other industries, and they evolve piecemeal with little overall oversight. As a result, they are increasingly dependent on revenue streams that may not be sustainable in the long run.

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