In the United States alone, people play lotteries for billions of dollars every week. Some are just playing for fun, but others hope that winning the lottery will give them a new life. But how fair is it for someone who might not even deserve to win the money to get it? Is the lottery really random?
Lotteries were once common in the Low Countries, where they served as a form of town charity. Later, they spread across England and into America. As Cohen explains, in the nineteen-sixties state governments faced budget crises that could not be solved by raising taxes or cutting services. Lotteries offered politicians a way to generate revenue from a new source—and a source that would not offend voters’ antipathy to gambling.
The result was that the lottery became, as Cohen puts it, a “budgetary miracle,” offering a chance for states to make hundreds of millions appear seemingly out of nowhere without imposing sales or income taxes. In many states, lotteries even helped to finance public works projects.
In addition to drawing in big-ticket jackpots, lottery sales were boosted by the fact that they offered people the opportunity to buy a ticket for as little as ten dollars. The rich did not avoid the game altogether, but they bought fewer tickets than the poor, and spent a smaller percentage of their incomes doing so.
In the end, if you’re lucky enough to buy into the lottery, you will wait for the official results to be announced. These are typically published on the lottery’s website or, for local lotteries, on public access television.