The official lottery is a state-sanctioned game that generates revenue for public projects. This money is generally used to support education, though the proceeds have also helped fund the building of roads, canals, and ferries. The New York Lottery was founded in 1967, and since then its proceeds have raised billions of dollars for education. It is operated by the state and is an independent organization within the Department of Taxation and Finance.
Throughout history, however, the lottery has faced strong opposition. Some critics, especially devout Protestants, questioned the ethics of funding public services through gambling and the amount of money that states stood to gain from a lottery. Others, particularly in the late twentieth century, joined a tax revolt that led to dramatic reductions in property taxes and state budgets. In 1978, for example, bingo games hosted by Ohio Catholic high schools took in more money than the state’s lottery.
Defenders of the official lottery often cast its opponents as lazy and gullible. They argue that people buy tickets to win a prize because they don’t understand how unlikely their chances are or simply enjoy the game. But, as Cohen points out, lottery sales are responsive to economic fluctuations: they increase when incomes fall and unemployment and poverty rates rise. They are also heavily promoted in neighborhoods that are disproportionately poor, Black, or Latino.