A lottery is an event in which a prize is awarded through a random drawing. Prizes may be anything from cash to goods to services. Lotteries have a long history and have been used for many different purposes, from charity to public works. They are popular around the world and raise billions of dollars a year. They are also controversial, with some people claiming they are addictive and have a high cost to society.
In his new book, Cohen investigates the lottery, whose popularity took off in the nineteen-sixties as state governments struggled to balance their budgets and pay for the costs of social welfare programs. He finds that the winners of the big prizes are disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. But he also shows how the popularity of the lottery grew in tandem with rising awareness about all the money that could be made in the gambling business and with a crisis in state funding, as the population boomed and inflation spiraled and states faced the unenviable choice of raising taxes or cutting essential services.
While rich people do play the lottery (one of the larger jackpots was won by three asset managers from Greenwich, Connecticut), they buy fewer tickets than poorer people, and their purchases represent a smaller percentage of their incomes. In general, those making more than fifty thousand dollars a year spend about one percent of their incomes on lottery tickets; those who make less than thirty-thousand spend thirteen percent.