Categories: Gambling

The Dark Underbelly of the Lottery

A lottery is a game where people pay money for a chance to win a prize. The prizes can be anything from a car to a house. The winners are determined by drawing or casting lots. Lotteries are often used to allocate something limited or in high demand, such as a seat in a kindergarten class, a spot on a sports team, or a place in a subsidized housing block.

While the lottery has become a fixture in American life and most people know that they’re unlikely to win, there’s still a strong, inextricable impulse to play. Billboards proclaiming the size of the jackpot on offer on the Mega Millions or Powerball beckon to us with an irresistible promise of wealth. And of course, there’s that underlying message, that even if you don’t win, you’re doing your civic duty to help the state by buying a ticket.

But there’s a dark underbelly to this inexplicable human urge to gamble. Studies have shown that state-sponsored lotteries rely heavily on a small percentage of super users who make up between 70 and 80 percent of the revenue. That leaves out low-income and minority populations, who are more likely to spend a larger percentage of their income on tickets. This inequality is even more evident when you consider the fact that states’ coffers swell thanks to both ticket sales and winnings, but that this revenue does not translate to better services for residents or a more robust economy.

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