The Lottery and Its Critics
The casting of lots for making decisions and determining fates has an extensive record in human history. The earliest lotteries are recorded in the Low Countries in the 15th century to raise money for town fortifications, and later for a wide range of public purposes. In the 17th century, the colonies used lotteries to finance canals, colleges, and other construction projects; Benjamin Franklin even attempted a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia against the British during the American Revolution.
Since state lotteries are run as businesses and aimed at maximizing revenues, they depend on persuading people to spend money on tickets. This strategy has a number of problems, including 1) obscuring the regressive nature of gambling (the money spent on a ticket is typically much higher than the prize won); 2) ignoring the social costs (problem gamblers can ruin families), and 3) promoting state-sponsored gambling at cross-purposes with the overall public interest.
Critics charge that lotteries also promote misleading information, often presenting unrealistic odds of winning and inflating the value of winnings (most jackpots are paid out in equal annual installments over 20 years, which significantly reduces their current value due to inflation and taxes). They further argue that lottery advertising is frequently deceptive, including highlighting winnings in a manner that emphasizes how improbable it is for anyone to win. Finally, they note that many lottery officials do not take their responsibilities seriously and do not consider the impact of the lottery on the general welfare.