Skip to content
Home » The Growing Addiction to the Lottery

The Growing Addiction to the Lottery

  • by

Lottery is a form of gambling where people put a small amount of money into an envelope and then draw a number that represents a chance to win a prize. The prize can range from a free vacation to a car or a big cash jackpot. Some people are addicted to playing the lottery, and they spend a large portion of their income on tickets. Lotteries are a common way for states to raise money for important public services.

In the past, some lotteries have been tangled up with slavery, including the auctioning of slaves by George Washington and a fabled lottery where one enslaved man bought his freedom. In the modern era, however, lottery addiction has coincided with a decline in the financial security of most working Americans. As inflation and the costs of war eroded the standard of living in the nineteen-seventies, retirement plans eroded, health-care costs rose, and job security diminished, many working Americans came to see winning the lottery as their last, best or only shot at new wealth.

Cohen argues that the growth of lottery addiction is due to a fundamental change in the way we think about work and wealth in America. For most of American history, people who earned modest wages could rely on a social safety net that provided housing, healthcare, and education. But starting in the nineteen-sixties, when inflation and the cost of Vietnam escalated, that arrangement began to collapse. State governments were finding that it was impossible to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were unpopular with voters.

Lotteries became a popular way for state governments to raise money to help meet their growing deficits, and they were often linked with political corruption and bribery. Some states even used them to distribute land and property among their citizens. But the most popular use of lotteries in the United States was as a source of revenue for government projects.

For example, the colonial state of Massachusetts used lotteries to finance a huge number of public works, including canals, roads, colleges, and churches. The earliest lotteries in the United States were private and not state-run, but eventually some states regulated them as a way to generate funds for public projects.

During the early post-World War II period, some states started to run public lotteries, such as for housing units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a prestigious school. Some of these were criticized as addictive forms of gambling, but others were seen as a way to provide a needed service without raising taxes, which were unpopular with voters.

A few years ago, a Michigan couple became famous for winning large sums of money by purchasing lots of tickets in bulk, thousands at a time, to ensure they would win. This strategy has become so popular that some critics have called it a form of legalized piracy. Regardless of whether or not you consider it legal, the story of this couple offers an interesting lesson about the power of human nature and the ways that people mistreat each other based on cultural beliefs and practices that are difficult to overcome.