The Official Lottery

The official lottery, operated by the New York State Lottery, offers a variety of draw and scratch-off games. It is available in 45 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as in Canada. Players must be 18 years or older to purchase and redeem a ticket.

How it got started

In the nineteen-sixties, with America’s prosperity ebbing and its social safety net under strain, many state governments struggled to find a way to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. One solution was to legalize state-sanctioned gambling.

Proponents of the idea argued that, by filling state coffers with money that otherwise would have gone to gamblers, the lottery would keep more money in the pockets of average citizens. The problem, however, was that lotteries didn’t bring in enough to cover state costs.

Rather, lottery revenues are used to pay for things that state legislators believe are good for their constituents—for public safety, local schools, and even college scholarships. That inevitably leaves poor people paying for services that are not essential to their well-being, and it can create inequities by disproportionately benefiting college students and wealthier school districts far from the neighborhoods where lottery tickets are sold.

The lottery also preys on low-income communities, which are disproportionately made up of Black and brown people, researchers say. Those communities often believe that a winning lottery ticket will lead to instant wealth, and are willing to spend more on their tickets than higher-income groups. This means that they can fall further behind in their bills and into deeper debt.