The state lottery is one of America’s most popular forms of gambling. It is also the source of a large portion of state revenue. The state’s argument is that the money from lotteries helps to provide important services, such as education. But a look at history shows that there is something more going on here than that simple assertion.
The casting of lots to decide matters of fate and fortune has a long record in human history, including several examples in the Bible. More recently, it has been used for material gain. The first recorded public lottery to offer tickets and prize money was organized by the Roman Emperor Augustus for municipal repairs in Rome. Later, the Low Countries offered such lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor.
States’ promotion of lotteries is often accompanied by the claim that they generate “painless” revenue, meaning that citizens voluntarily spend their money on lottery tickets for the benefit of the state without being taxed. But studies show that the objective fiscal condition of a state has little bearing on whether or not it establishes a lottery.
In the case of lotteries, the truth is that they do not produce “painless” revenue, and their costs are much more serious than the amount of money they raise for the state. Among other things, they prey on those who most need to stick to their budgets and save. In addition, the lottery industry is infamous for manipulating and misleading its consumers.