Lottery Addiction


The lottery is a popular form of gambling that has been legalized in many states. People play it for fun or as a way to win big money. The prize money can range from small amounts to thousands of dollars. Regardless of how much you win, the odds are low so don’t expect to become rich overnight.

The game’s roots are ancient, but its modern incarnation is relatively recent. In the United States, state-run lotteries are a big business and an important source of government revenue. But they’re also a major source of addiction, a fact that should worry anyone who cares about the health of America’s children.

In the early seventeenth century, public lotteries were common in the Low Countries, where towns held them to raise money for everything from town fortifications to helping the poor. Lottery games also became a popular way to finance wars. By the 18th century, most European states had a lottery. In the US, they became popular in the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. With populations skyrocketing, inflation climbing, and the cost of the Vietnam War rising, balancing budgets became increasingly difficult for states with generous social safety nets. The only way to keep spending at bay was to increase taxes or cut services, both of which were highly unpopular with voters.

State legislators were looking for a new source of revenue, and they found it in the lottery. By allowing citizens to purchase tickets for a chance to win a big prize, they could generate significant profits without raising taxes. The first modern lotteries were very successful and soon spread across the country. In the early eighties, state-run gambling accounted for more than half of all lottery sales.

As the popularity of the lottery grew, so did its addictive qualities. Advertisers figured out how to target vulnerable citizens by creating messages that appealed to the human need for instant gratification. They marketed the lottery as a way to buy success and escape from life’s struggles. State governments were not above availing themselves of the psychology of addiction, a practice that’s no different from those used by tobacco companies and video-game makers.

Lotteries have a long history of being manipulated by state officials. For example, in the late 1700s, officials rigged the game to favor certain groups, including the enslaved and the elderly. This was known as “nine-and-a-half rigging.” In the ensuing decades, the lottery has been rigged in other ways, too. In some cases, officials have even admitted that they rigged the results. Some of these scandals have been uncovered by journalists at the Columbia Journalism Review and the Washington Post. But others have remained hidden from the public.