Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Until the nineteen-sixties, state lotteries were generally seen as a relatively benign way to boost revenue for state services. In this period, many of the states that offered them also had large social safety nets that were expensive to maintain; as a result, it was possible for many voters to overlook the fact that lottery money was basically a hidden tax.

But as America entered the era of high inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War, this arrangement was beginning to break down. For many state governments, balancing their budgets became more difficult than ever. Increasingly, the choice was to raise taxes or cut public services. Neither option was popular with voters.

At this point, state officials began to think about alternatives. One idea that came up was the lottery, which could be run much like a game of keno. Each bettor writes his name and amount staked on a ticket that is then shuffled, possibly discarded, and then selected for inclusion in a drawing.

Lotteries are designed to take advantage of human psychology, of how people’s brains respond to the lure of big prizes. The marketing strategies employed by lottery officials are no different from those used by tobacco companies or video-game manufacturers, though they don’t normally operate under the auspices of the state. The fact that a lot of people simply like to gamble makes lottery play seem inevitable, but it’s not the whole story. A lot of people also feel that a tiny, improbable shot at winning is the only way to climb out of a financial hole.