The Official Lottery

The official lottery is a government-run gambling game for the purpose of raising revenue. Lottery games are operated and regulated by state laws, which govern the operation, accounting, and distribution of the winnings; the time limits for claiming prizes; and activities that are considered illegal.

The first modern lottery was launched in Puerto Rico in 1934, and the United States followed suit in 1964, with New Hampshire leading the way. Lottery opponents at the time questioned both the ethics of funding public works through gambling and the amount of money states stood to gain. These critics, who came from both the right and the left, argued that lotteries preyed on poor people, who were tricked into paying money for chances to win a big prize. They also argued that lotteries were unwise because they diverted attention from fighting the scourge of corruption in local governments.

In addition, many winners have reported that they are harassed by financial advisors and solicitors who want to exploit their sudden wealth. Some winners have even been forced to leave their homes. Those concerns led state Sen. Joe Addabbo to reintroduce legislation that would allow New Yorkers who win the lottery to keep their names and addresses confidential in order to maximize public safety and protect the privacy of the winners.

In response to those criticisms, proponents of the lottery argued that it was better for the state to profit from people’s desire to gamble than to force them to pay taxes on income they might not use. This argument had its limits—by the same logic, the state should sell heroin—but it gave political cover to people who approved of lotteries in the name of economic growth or social justice.