The lottery is a popular way for people to try their luck at winning money. In the US alone, lottery games contribute billions of dollars each year. Despite the huge sums of money on offer, most players are aware that their chances of winning are very slim. However, many still believe that the lottery is their answer to a better life and are willing to spend large amounts of money on tickets.
Historically, lottery was a common means for states to raise money for a variety of purposes. In fact, in the immediate post-World War II period, a lot of people saw it as a painless form of taxation, allowing them to expand their social safety nets without raising especially onerous taxes on middle class and working class families.
But that arrangement began to crumble in the 1960s, and since then the state-run lotteries have been a drop in the bucket of actual state government revenues. Lottery proceeds aren’t even as much as most people think, and they’re collected inefficiently, with only 40 percent of each ticket actually going to the state.
So what’s the message here? Is it that if you buy a ticket you should feel good about yourself, that you’re doing your civic duty? Or is it that the lottery is a great way to make money? In my view, both are flawed messages. The former obscures the regressivity of the lottery and leads people to believe that they’re doing their civic duty by playing, while the latter reinforces the idea that wealth creation is a meritocratic enterprise.