Should Government Promote Gambling?


The lottery is a gambling game in which numbers are drawn randomly to determine winners. It is a popular form of entertainment and a major source of revenue for states, with prizes often running into millions of dollars. Lotteries have a long history in America, dating back to the first one in 1612. Throughout colonial America, lottery games were used to raise money for towns, wars, public works projects, colleges, and even churches. In modern times, state governments use the lottery to raise revenue in place of taxes or to provide additional services without imposing onerous tax increases on middle and lower class households.

State governments have an obligation to balance the costs and benefits of lottery programs with other state priorities. Yet the partisan debate that surrounds lottery issues has obscured some important questions. For example, lottery revenues tend to expand dramatically when new games are introduced, but they can eventually peak and then decline. Consequently, state officials must continually introduce new games in an effort to maintain or increase revenue.

State officials also promote the lottery as a way to benefit the common good by promoting responsible financial habits. This strategy is largely ineffective, as most lottery players are highly committed gamblers who spend a significant portion of their incomes on tickets. The real question is whether government should be in the business of promoting gambling in general and lotteries in particular. If the answer is yes, then it must address the negative consequences of this activity, such as addiction and regressive impacts on low-income communities.

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