Lottery is the wildly popular form of gambling that raises enormous sums of money for states. Lottery players come from all walks of life, but they are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. They also tend to play a lot, often buying tickets every week or more. Lotteries are a major source of income for convenience store operators, lottery suppliers (who make substantial contributions to state political campaigns), and teachers in those states where lottery revenues are earmarked for education.
In the 15th century, towns in the Low Countries used lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. Lottery games were later brought to America by colonists, and the founding fathers ran them to finance public projects such as Faneuil Hall in Boston and a road over Virginia’s mountain pass.
It was around 1800 that religious and moral sensibilities turned against gambling in general, says Matheson, and especially lotteries. He believes this was partly because of corruption—lotteries had a reputation for being corrupt and were rife with fraud.
Today, a lot of the messaging for state lotteries is that even if you lose, you’re doing a good thing because the revenue you’re paying in taxes is going to save children’s lives or build roads. But this message doesn’t take into account how much the lottery actually raises for the state, or how it’s spent. It’s an argument that is at cross-purposes with the true purpose of lotteries, which are meant to attract big gamblers who spend a huge amount of money.