The Truth About the Lottery


A competition in which numbered tickets are sold and prizes are given to the holders of those numbers, drawn at random; especially as a method of raising money for public projects.

Cohen says that, as the lottery took off in America, it offered politicians a solution to a difficult problem: how to fund new services without having to hike taxes or confront an increasingly hostile electorate. In a society defined politically by an aversion to taxation, lotteries “appeared to be budgetary miracles, the chance for states to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air.”

It didn’t take long for politicians to figure out that the larger the jackpot and the more ludicrous the odds, the more people wanted to play. And so they began to experiment with the prize amounts and the odds, lifting the top tiers to one-in-three million, then one-in-hundred million, and even one-in-a-billion.

Certainly wealthy people do play, but they tend to buy far fewer tickets than the poor (unless they’re going for that quarter-billion-dollar Powerball jackpot). And those who do play aren’t any more irrational than the rest of us. They just plain like to gamble, and it doesn’t hurt that they believe that a little bit of luck can change their lives. The real issue, of course, is that lotteries are a scam that exploits human psychology. It’s not that different from what tobacco companies and video-game makers do. The only difference is that state officials don’t normally advertise their tricks.

Posted in: Gambling