Lottery is an ancient practice in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Some governments outlaw it, while others endorse it to the extent of organizing state or national lotteries. Cohen’s narrative focuses on the lottery’s modern incarnation, which he argues started in the nineteen-sixties, when rising awareness of how much money could be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding. Faced with growing costs for social safety net programs, aging infrastructure, and soaring inflation, state governments struggled to balance budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, which were highly unpopular with voters.
The solution, states decided, was to offer bigger and bigger prizes. And so began the rise of a new breed of lottery player, whose purchases, according to Cohen, now represent a disproportionate share of state revenue. Lottery commissions also began promoting the notion that winning the lottery was not only a safe, low-risk way to improve one’s life, but that it also helped support government services.
The resulting surge in ticket sales has been so intense that the nation’s top lottery players, who tend to be wealthier, spend, on average, one per cent of their income on tickets. In contrast, poor people spend thirteen per cent of their income on them. It is a telling indicator of how the lottery has become a vehicle for chasing illusions of wealth and the hope that, with enough time, you will be one of the few to make it big.