Categories: Gambling

Public Services and the Lottery

The lottery has been a favored revenue source in many states for more than 40 years, and while it’s true that people lose billions every year, lotteries are popular, and the revenue they generate is considerable. They have helped fund public works projects, subsidize schools, and even help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The primary argument used to support the state-run lotteries is that players voluntarily spend their money on tickets and in doing so, they are supporting public services. This argument is problematic for two reasons.

The first is that it obscures the regressivity of the game. The state-run lotteries send a message that playing the lottery is harmless, that it’s just like a fun little game and that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, thereby masking its regressive nature. It also encourages people to play, which in turn makes it easier for politicians to continue expanding the lottery’s offerings and increasing the prize amounts.

The other problem is that a substantial percentage of lottery players are in the lowest income brackets, and those seemingly small ticket purchases add up to hundreds of dollars a year that could be put toward paying off debt or accumulating savings. That money can make a big difference in the lives of low-income people, and there are plenty of examples of people who won big in the lottery and went on to lead destructive, self-destructive lifestyles. Abraham Shakespeare, who killed himself after winning $31 million in 2006, and Jeffrey Dampier, who hung himself shortly after his $20 million win, are just two of the most tragic cases to date.

Article info