Lottery Critics


In a lottery, participants pay a small amount to be in with a chance of winning a prize. The prize can be cash or goods. The odds of winning are incredibly low, but for some players this does not detract from the excitement and the belief that they will win a fortune. The first recorded lotteries were in the Low Countries in the 15th Century, where towns raised money for town repairs and to help the poor.

In addition to the general public, lottery participants include convenience store owners (because most states sell their tickets there); suppliers of lottery equipment or services, such as the machines that randomly select numbers; teachers in those states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education; and state legislators. These groups form large and well-defined constituencies, with their own idiosyncratic interests and concerns. They do not, however, form a coherent and cohesive public policy group.

Lottery critics often point to these particular interests and concerns as evidence of the regressive effect of lotteries, but in practice they are not a coherent force against them. Lottery officials, for their part, tend to focus on the specific message that lottery gambling is good because it generates revenue for states, which they believe will enable governments to provide services without imposing onerous taxes on middle- and lower-income people.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with lottery is that it offers a false promise of quick riches in a world of limited social mobility and inequality. Even for those who play the lottery regularly, its odds are long. It is more realistic to seek wealth through hard work, heeding the biblical wisdom that “lazy hands make for poverty” (Proverbs 24:27).