The History of the Lottery


There’s something in the human psyche that makes us all want to gamble, and lottery games are a convenient way for people to try their luck. In fact, lotteries have been around for a long time – the first recorded instances of them date back to the Roman Empire (Nero was a fan), and they’re also attested to in the Bible, where lots keluaran hk are cast to determine everything from the kingship of Israel to who gets Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. Often, though, these early lotteries were used to raise money for public works.

By the late-twentieth century, when Cohen’s story starts, lotteries were becoming a key source of state revenue. The immediate post-World War II period was a golden age for many states, which were able to expand their array of services without especially onerous taxes on middle-class and working-class Americans. But by the nineteen-sixties, rising inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War made balancing state budgets more difficult. For some states, such as New Hampshire and the Northeast, the only choice was to either cut services or start selling tickets for the lottery.

The rise of the state lottery was fueled by a desire to generate a steady flow of cash that could be directed toward a wide variety of purposes. Using the language of the consumer market, proponents of the lottery promoted it as a way to “fill the gaps” in state spending. Those who opposed it often cited ethical concerns, like the potential for compulsive gambling and the alleged regressive impact on lower-income communities.

As state lotteries grew in popularity, the debate moved from whether or not they were desirable to more specific features of their operations. For example, critics have complained that even when the proceeds from a lottery are earmarked for a particular program (such as public education), the appropriations for those programs remain in the general fund and can be diverted to other purposes at any time.

Moreover, when state officials make policy decisions about the lottery, they do so piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall vision in mind. As a result, they often find themselves running at cross-purposes with the larger public interest.

In addition, state-sponsored lotteries tend to be heavily promoted through advertising. This is a classic form of social engineering, which has the effect of drawing participants from groups with different inclinations, skewing the demographics of the lottery player base and raising questions about fairness.

And finally, lotteries have been tangled up with slavery in a number of ways – from the enslaved who played in antebellum slave games to Denmark Vesey, who won a South Carolina lottery and went on to foment a slave rebellion. So, while there may be an inextricable element of human nature at work here, the biggest problem with lottery advertising is that it offers a false promise of instant riches to people who don’t have the financial means to take on that kind of risk.