During the nineteen-sixties, when growing awareness of all the money to be made in gambling collided with a crisis in state funding, states turned to lotteries as a quick and cheap source of cash. Cohen chronicles how the lotteries that resulted have followed remarkably similar patterns: states legislate a monopoly; establish a public agency to run the lottery (or, in rare cases, license a private company for a cut of profits); begin operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, under the pressure of constant demands for additional revenues, gradually expand the scope and complexity of the lottery.
The lottery is not a panacea for state financial problems, however. Lottery critics point out that the earmarking of proceeds to a particular program (like education) does little more than reduce by the same amount the appropriations the legislature would otherwise have had to allot from the general fund; the lottery funds simply become part of the overall budget and can be spent on whatever the legislature chooses.
Further, critics argue that a lottery’s popularity does not correlate with the state’s actual fiscal condition, and that its appeal stems principally from the fact that it offers voters an alternative to paying taxes or cutting public programs. And, because of its regressive nature, the lottery takes a disproportionate toll on poor citizens. The fact that it is government-sanctioned only makes this toll worse. Lottery opponents come from all walks of life, but some of the most vociferous have been devout Protestants, who view the state’s involvement in gambling as morally unconscionable.