Should We Legalize the Lottery?

Written by admin on April 9, 2024 in Gambling with no comments.

The casting of lots to determine fate has a long history, from the biblical plagues to the ad-hoc elections that ruled ancient Babylon. But making it a mechanism for allocating prizes is more recent. By the fourteen-hundreds, a lottery was common in the Low Countries, raising funds for everything from town fortifications to public charity. In the United States, Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to pay for cannons in the American Revolution; Thomas Jefferson bought his way out of crushing debts with one; and Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Princeton all have roots in state-sponsored lotteries.

Today, 44 states and the District of Columbia run lotteries. The six that don’t—Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada—suffer from budget crises that don’t quite match the urgency that drives other states to adopt lotteries. In those cases, legalization advocates shift the argument, dropping the claim that a lottery would float most of a state’s budget and instead arguing that it would cover a line item of general public use, usually education but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid to veterans.

But shifting the debate raises the question of whether or not promoting gambling is an appropriate function for a government. After all, if we’re only looking to shield compulsive gamblers from exploitation (a worthy goal), why spend huge sums on advertising and print gaudy tickets that look like nightclub fliers spliced with Monster Energy drinks? And what about the broader social impact, including its potentially regressive effect on poorer households?

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