The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a game of chance in which players purchase tickets to win prizes such as cash and goods. The first modern government-run lotteries in the US were established in Puerto Rico in 1934 and New Hampshire in 1964. Today, most states run a lottery and offer three or more game types: a number game like Powerball; instant lottery tickets; and games of chance such as keno. Some states even have video lottery terminals, where players can play a variety of casino-style games.

In his article, Cohen argues that the modern case for state-run lotteries started in the nineteen-sixties when the growth of public awareness of lottery profits collided with a crisis in state funding. As a result of the Vietnam War, inflation, and the cost of social safety net programs, state budgets began to strain. Politicians faced a dilemma: either raise taxes or cut services. Both options were unpopular with voters. Lotteries offered a solution: they could bring in enormous sums of money, and — because they were essentially painless forms of taxation — they would be less likely to be rejected at the polls.

In early America, lotteries played an important role in supplying funds for both private and public ventures. They helped build roads, libraries, churches, and canals. The universities of Harvard and Yale were founded with proceeds from lotteries, and the Continental Congress raised money through one to help pay for the Revolutionary War. Lottery games also funded many of the early public buildings in New York City, including city hall and other civic structures.