The Immorality of Lottery Gambling


The lottery, which draws millions of people each year to play a game of chance for big money, is often presented as a morally acceptable alternative to other forms of gambling. States justify it by claiming that proceeds benefit public services, and by suggesting that the winners are doing something socially responsible when they buy a ticket. But there is no evidence that this is true. In fact, Cohen argues, it is likely that the opposite is true: lotteries are not only immoral, but they also make society worse off by encouraging people to spend more of their income on them.

The history of the lottery goes back to ancient times, but Cohen’s main focus is on the modern version of it, which began in the nineteen-sixties, when the baby boomers’ growing prosperity collided with state budget crises. Across America, a rising population and inflation made it harder for politicians to balance the books without either hiking taxes or cutting public services, both of which were very unpopular with voters. In this climate, lottery advocates pushed legalization, arguing that it would fill state coffers and thus keep tax dollars in the pockets of ordinary citizens.

But the reality soon proved different. The first legalized lotteries brought in only a fraction of the hundreds of millions that proponents had imagined, and they raised even less as time went by. In the end, lottery revenues accounted for just two per cent of New Jersey’s total state spending.

Instead, as time went by, lottery proponents switched gears and began selling the idea that it could cover a particular line item in the state budget, typically education but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid for veterans. This approach allowed them to avoid any ethical objections to gambling, and it also gave them a political weapon to use against opponents who argued that a vote for the lottery was a vote against education or other popular government services.

In addition to this, lottery commissioners are not above deploying strategies more usually associated with the marketing of cigarettes or video games: glitzy advertising campaigns and products designed to encourage addiction. In order to boost sales, lottery officials also advertise heavily in neighborhoods that are disproportionately black or poor.

Many people who win the lottery do a good job of managing their money, but plenty more don’t. And in some cases, the ill-management of sudden wealth can lead to disaster: a recent study found that over half of lottery winners are bankrupt within a few years. To prevent this, it is important to learn how to manage money, and to think of the lottery as a form of entertainment, rather than a way to improve your financial situation. Moreover, you should try to avoid overspending and never bet more than you can afford to lose. Lastly, you should be sure to consult with a financial planner. They can help you create a financial plan for the future and help you stay on track with your goals.