In a lottery the chance of winning something, usually money or prizes, is determined by random selection (either by numbers or symbols) on tickets purchased for a price. The first modern lotteries in Europe appeared in the fifteenth century in Burgundy and Flanders with towns attempting to raise money to fortify their defenses or provide charity for the poor. Francis I of France approved their operation for both private and public profit, and the idea spread to England where Queen Elizabeth chartered the nation’s first official lottery in 1666.
Cohen argues that the modern incarnation of the state lottery was born in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of how much money could be made in gambling collided with the need to balance state budgets. Faced with soaring population, inflation, the cost of fighting the Vietnam War, and a rapidly deteriorating social safety net, many states found it difficult to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting services. Moreover, both options were unpopular with voters.
With a lottery, he contends, the state can circumvent these problems and still provide its citizens with a vital service. Lottery proceeds can fund a wide range of state and local programs, including education, roads and infrastructure, health care, parks, cultural events, and even police and fire departments. Unlike other sources of state revenue, the lottery has one significant advantage: the funds it generates are distributed to all the people in the state rather than just those who choose to play.
At the same time, however, Cohen argues that state lotteries should be limited to their core functions: distributing money for government purposes. This would allow them to avoid the distortions and corruption that taint other forms of state funding. State governments should also be cautious about allowing private companies to run the games because of the potential for conflicts of interest and monopolization.
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