Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each week on lottery tickets in the United States. This is the most popular form of gambling in the country. While the proceeds from lottery games can be used to help people in need, it is important to know how these funds are actually being spent.

Lottery proceeds are generally derived from taxes paid by people who buy tickets, and it is therefore not surprising that the most frequent reason given for playing the lottery is to “support the community.” But is this really what the lottery was designed for?

State-sponsored lotteries are business operations that must compete with each other for customers. As such, they are constantly introducing new games in an attempt to maintain or increase revenues. During the first decade of operation, revenues typically expand rapidly; then they level off and eventually begin to decline. Lottery officials have also learned that large jackpots attract public attention and drive ticket sales. They often increase the number of balls in a lottery drawing to boost odds and grow the prize money, while also advertising the increased chances of winning.

Lotteries have a long history in the United States and around the world, including early colonial America when Benjamin Franklin sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British. Many of our most prominent colleges and universities owe their existence to lottery funds, as did some of the nation’s first church buildings. Although some conservative Protestants oppose gambling, there is a basic human impulse to gamble, and lotteries exploit this in a way that is both ethically questionable and socially undesirable.