The lottery is a popular form of public gambling. State lotteries generate enormous revenues and have wide popular support. But there are also important questions about whether the state should be in the business of promoting gambling, and about how well the lottery performs its public service function.
Lotteries are based on the principle that random chance determines the winners of prizes. The first recorded lotteries, offering tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money, were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century. They were used to raise funds for town fortifications, to help the poor, and for other purposes.
Although many people complain about the unfairness of the way the lottery is run, most understand that the result depends on pure chance. Nevertheless, some numbers seem to come up more often than others. This is due to the fact that some people tend to buy more tickets, and the more tickets there are in a drawing, the greater the chances of someone winning. Despite the fact that lotteries have strict rules designed to prevent “rigging” results, there are some people who claim that the lottery is fixed in favor of certain numbers, or against them.
Those who run the lottery are under constant pressure to increase revenue, and their success depends on keeping revenues high. As a result, they must continually introduce new games and promote them aggressively. Some of these innovations have been surprisingly successful, including the introduction of instant games (such as scratch-off tickets) that offer lower prize amounts but much higher odds of winning. The success of these innovations has led to a rapid expansion in the number of games offered by the lottery.
When a person wins the lottery, they are suddenly thrust into the ranks of the rich and powerful. This can cause great problems, especially when the winner is a young, inexperienced person who may not be prepared for the responsibility. Many people who win the lottery end up losing it all in a short time. Some go bankrupt and become homeless. Other people become addicted to gambling, and lose their families. Some even kill themselves.
Despite the negative consequences, most people are in favor of lottery reform because it allows people to win large sums of money without having to work for it. However, many states fail to put proper safeguards in place, and there is still too much corruption and fraud. Moreover, there are serious concerns about the impact of gambling on society, particularly the poor and problem gamblers. For these reasons, reforms are needed. A reformed lottery would be better suited to serve the interests of the public, and would make gambling more socially responsible. This article was originally published in the September/October 1955 issue of The Kenyon Review and is reprinted here by permission. For further information about The Kenyon Review, please visit their Web site. For subscription enquiries, please contact: [email protected]. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots.