How the Official Lottery Affects Social Cohesion and Inequality

official lottery

Official Lottery offers a variety of games to play online, in-person and on your mobile phone. Players must be 18 years or older to play. Players must be located within Pennsylvania for online play. Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of winning numbers, prize payouts and other information posted on the Official Lottery website. In the event of a discrepancy, the official drawing results shall prevail.

It is no secret that people like to gamble. But what is not always clear is how much state-sponsored gambling erodes social cohesion and increases inequality, especially when it targets poor people. As a recent Howard Center report found, lottery proceeds benefit wealthier school districts and college students disproportionately far removed from neighborhoods where tickets are sold, and as a result, the lottery “preys on the poor, who have no other financial alternatives.”

The first modern state-run lotteries were launched in the nineteen-sixties, when the country’s postwar prosperity began to fade and states faced budgetary crises without enraging an increasingly antitax electorate by raising taxes or cutting services. As a result, states turned to the lottery as an alternative revenue source.

A primary message that state lotteries now rely on is that playing the lottery is fun. Coded into this is the idea that, even if you lose, you should feel good because you did your civic duty to help the state out. This argument, however, ignores that lottery revenue ends up being a drop in the bucket for actual state governments—it is estimated to be between 1 and 2 percent of total state revenues.

As for the other major message, that lotteries are needed to raise money for schools and other public needs, Cohen finds that this claim is also questionable. As he points out, lottery revenue has increased as incomes have fallen and unemployment has risen. In addition, the advertising of lottery products has tended to be concentrated in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor, black, or Latino.

To be fair, Cohen does note that some of the money raised by state-run lotteries has been used for a number of worthy projects. For example, New York City Hall was built with lottery proceeds, as were numerous canals and ferries. But these benefits are hard to reconcile with the fact that a huge portion of lottery revenue is simply collected from those who can least afford it, while a smaller percentage goes back into the state’s general fund and, hence, into the pockets of rich politicians. For these reasons, it is important to consider the true cost of this form of government-sponsored gambling. Then, perhaps, we can stop encouraging a vice that does little more than deepen the already troubling income disparities in our society.