The Official Lottery

Official lottery is a procedure for distributing something (usually money or prizes) among a group of people by lot or chance. Modern lotteries are often regulated by government agencies. They may be used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by a random selection process, or the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. Lottery games, such as the New York State Lottery, provide an alternative method for funding public services by collecting voluntary taxes from individuals through a game of chance.

In the early American colonies, for example, the lottery was a common way to raise funds for everything from civil defense and public works projects to churches and colleges. In 1776, the Continental Congress even attempted to hold a lottery to help finance the Revolutionary War. But critics hailed from both sides of the political spectrum and all walks of life. Devout Protestants, in particular, viewed state-sponsored gambling as morally unconscionable.

The New York State Lottery was launched in 1967 with the slogan “Your Chance of a Lifetime to Help Education.” Since then it has raised billions of dollars in revenue, largely from a sales tax on tickets that is withheld from winners.

Nevertheless, many people continue to play the lottery, and in a country with high unemployment rates and sagging incomes, it can be tempting to take chances in the hope of improving one’s economic prospects. Cohen writes that the lottery is a “mechanism of the American dream” for many.