The Regressive Nature of Lottery


Lottery is a game of chance and skill. Its participants spend money on a small chance of winning big, hoping to make enough to live on for a long time. Lottery has always been a popular way to raise money for both private and public ventures, from founding universities to building roads, canals, and churches. It was common in colonial-era America to use lotteries as a painless alternative to taxation. Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia, and George Washington attempted to launch one for the construction of his road across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When state lotteries first became popular in the 1960s, they were sold to the public as a simple fundraising tool that would funnel millions to public schools and other social programs. The public bought it, but critics worry that states have come to rely too heavily on unpredictable gambling revenues and that they are exploiting the poor. The Atlantic has documented that the poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets, and that the games are advertised most aggressively in poor neighborhoods.

The state of North Carolina now allows players to see where their dollars go, which helps them understand the regressive nature of the lottery. They can read stories like those of Wake Tech student Luis Tapia, who no longer has to stress about how he will pay for school, and John Hargrove, a custodian at Warren County High School, who now has the resources to keep his students safe and educated. It is noble for those who win to give back, but the world’s problems cannot be solved with money alone.