The History of the Lottery by Jo Ann Cohen

The lottery is a big business and there’s a lot of money to be made. That’s part of the reason so many people buy tickets. But is it right for governments to run them? Should the state be in the business of trying to lure people with the hope of winning a large sum of cash? These questions are at the heart of a new book on the history of the lottery by journalist Jo Ann Cohen.

The book looks at the evolution of the state-run lottery in the United States, and compares it to the private lotteries that were common in early America. The book also points out that the American lottery began in a time of prosperity, one that enabled states to expand their social safety nets without too much burden on middle-class and working-class taxpayers. But by the nineteen-sixties, that arrangement was starting to crumble as inflation and the cost of the Vietnam War made balancing budgets more difficult. And since raising taxes or cutting services is usually very unpopular with voters, a growing number of state legislatures turned to the lottery for help.

Most state-run lotteries begin with a similar pattern: the government legislates a monopoly for itself; creates an agency or public corporation to run it; starts operations with a small number of relatively simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, gradually increases the size and complexity of the lottery’s offerings. And as the lottery has expanded, so too have the ethical arguments surrounding it.

Today, critics of the lottery focus largely on the negative consequences that seem to come from it (compulsive gambling, regressive impacts on poor communities, etc.). But, Cohen writes, these arguments are often misstated. The real question is not whether the lottery should be legalized or not; it’s how state-run lotteries can best be used to address specific problems of public policy.

When buying scratch-off cards, look for ones that show a pattern, like three in a row or a series of digits. This is statistically indicative of a higher chance of a win. Also, pay attention to when the game’s records are updated. Buying the card shortly after this update will increase your chances of getting more prizes.

Lastly, consider donating some of your winnings to charities and other good causes. This is a good idea from a societal perspective and will likely make you feel better about yourself in the long run. After all, wealth doesn’t make you happy by itself; it’s the things that you do with it that matter. And doing good will certainly make you a happier person. After all, as the old saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”