The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a government-run game in which participants pay money for the chance to win a prize, typically cash. The prizes are distributed according to a random procedure. There are many different types of lotteries, such as those used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property or services are awarded by a random selection process, and the drawing of jury members from lists of registered voters. Lotteries are considered gambling under federal law, although there are some exceptions.

Cohen, who has long supported the idea of state-sponsored gambling, argues that lotteries are not just harmless fun; they help states fund their government services. But he also says that the benefits are overstated, and that the real goal of the industry is to keep people addicted. He points out that everything about the games—from their advertising campaigns to their math—is designed to hook players. He describes how officials rely on psychological principles similar to those of addiction-inducing drugs and video games, such as hypnotic messages and the repetition of numbers.

The first modern government-run US lottery was established in Puerto Rico in 1934, followed by New Hampshire in 1964. It was originally billed as an easy, inexpensive way for the state to raise money for education. The slogan was a key selling point, since it allowed legalization advocates to argue that a lottery would cover a single line item, usually a popular, nonpartisan government service—usually education, but sometimes elderly care, public parks, or aid for veterans—and thus made a vote for it not a vote for gambling but for a particular need of the people.