In a lottery, players buy tickets and hope to win money by picking a set of numbers. The prize is the sum of all the winning tickets, and it grows over time until someone wins. The prize amount is typically announced at the end of each drawing. A lot of people enjoy playing the lottery, even if they never win. But for many others, it becomes a serious addiction that can destroy their lives and their families.
In the article, Cohen describes how the defenders of state-run gambling have come up with new strategies for persuading voters to approve the practice. In place of the old argument that a lottery would float most of a state’s budget, they began arguing that it could fund a specific line item, often education but sometimes elder care or public parks or veterans’ aid. This narrower message allowed them to appeal to an audience that was not averse to the idea of government-funded gambling but was concerned about how much it would eat into general state revenue.
One other message that states rely on in marketing their lotteries is a sense of civic duty. Lottery commissions tell people that if they buy a ticket, they’re doing their duty to the state or their children or whatever. But this misses the regressive nature of lottery spending and obscures the fact that the lottery is an addictive activity that can ensnare even people who consider themselves very careful with their money.