Lottery Critics

The lottery is a game of chance in which players purchase tickets for a series of numbers and win prizes if their numbers match those randomly drawn by machines. In the United States, lottery games are legal and widespread; they generate billions in annual revenues for state governments and benefit a wide variety of public projects. Despite their popularity, lotteries are controversial, with critics citing problems such as compulsive gambling and the regressive impact on poorer people.

Lotteries were widely used in colonial America to raise money for public works projects, including paving streets and constructing wharves. Benjamin Franklin, for example, held a lottery to finance the construction of cannons for Philadelphia’s defense against British forces during the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson sponsored a private lottery in order to relieve his crushing debts.

State-sponsored lotteries have a long history in the United States and are popular among many different groups of people. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, about 60 percent of adults play the lottery at least once a year. But the lottery’s success depends on a very small core of “super users,” who drive sales and generate most of the revenue that is paid out in prize money.

Despite this, the state-sponsored lottery model remains remarkably popular, and it is unlikely to be abolished anytime soon. As a result, lottery critics must focus their criticism on specific features of the operation — such as the problems associated with super-sized jackpots, which generate free publicity and encourage gamblers to spend more than they can afford.