The Controversy of the Lottery

The casting of lots to determine fates has a long record in human history, including at least two instances in the Bible. Lotteries are government sponsored and managed games of chance in which participants pay money and receive a prize based on the results of a drawing. These games raise substantial revenues and are a source of significant controversy.

One major reason for this controversy is that the lottery is often seen as a way for states to finance public services without raising taxes, particularly on the poor. This view is particularly strong during times of economic stress, when the lottery is able to win broad support by emphasizing that its proceeds are used to improve public education.

However, critics point out that this arrangement is fundamentally flawed. The lottery expands the number of people who participate in gambling and may promote addictive behavior, while it also creates an inherent conflict between state desires to increase revenue and its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens.

Moreover, the lottery becomes a magnet for special interest groups, such as convenience store owners (who sell many tickets); suppliers of equipment and supplies for the games (whose executives make large donations to state political campaigns); teachers (in states where a portion of the profits is earmarked for their benefit); and politicians and public servants who become accustomed to a steady stream of new revenue. The result is that the lottery often operates with little or no general oversight.