The Popularity of the Lottery


Lottery is a wildly popular form of gambling that allows participants to pay a small sum of money for the chance to win a big prize. It’s so popular that almost every state has adopted it, and the proceeds from many of these lotteries are earmarked for some sort of public purpose. In this way, the lottery is often seen as a “painless” source of revenue—people willingly spend their money on a small chance to benefit the public good. This argument has been especially effective in times of economic stress, when people fear tax increases or cuts to public services.

The casting of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history in human societies, but it became an increasingly common practice in the modern world in the seventeenth century as states sought new ways to raise revenue and balance their budgets. Cohen argues that the lottery’s popularity stemmed in large part from the fact that it provided a convenient alternative to raising taxes or cutting spending on essential social services, which are viewed as regressive and deeply unpopular with voters.

Today, most lotteries feature a series of games that allow players to purchase tickets for a chance to win prizes ranging from cash to expensive vacations and luxury cars. Some even partner with sports teams and merchandising companies to offer products like Snickers bars or Harley-Davidson motorcycles as top prizes. These merchandising deals help the lottery increase sales while also increasing its advertising visibility. And of course, all these games are designed to keep players coming back for more—in a sense, they are no different than the marketing strategies used by cigarette companies or video-game manufacturers.