Lottery – The Moral Importance of Playing the Lottery


Lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn for prizes, often sponsored by states as a way of raising money. It is also a way of life for some people: they think that they are always going to win the lottery, and that they are doing something good when they buy a ticket.

In the immediate post-World War II period, there was a widespread belief that lotteries could help finance a broad array of state services without significantly increasing taxes on middle and working class citizens. This belief was inspired by the success of the illegal gambling that abounds in America, and it is also rooted in the human inclination to play games of chance. Lotteries first became popular in the Northeast, where there were large social safety nets that needed to be supplemented with new revenue sources. George Washington ran a lottery in the 1760s to raise money to build the Mountain Road, and Benjamin Franklin supported lotteries to pay for cannons during the Revolutionary War.

While some people feel that it is a moral imperative to support the lottery, others find it very difficult to justify spending money on a ticket. Whether or not to participate is a personal choice, and it depends on the expected utility of the monetary and non-monetary benefits associated with winning.

Regardless of one’s beliefs about the morality of participating in the lottery, most agree that it is an extremely unequal distribution of wealth. This fact is reflected in the way that states allocate their lottery profits, as illustrated in Table 7.2. The largest share of the proceeds is allocated to education, while the remaining amounts are shared among a variety of state programs and services.