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What is behind the “addiction” in the United States for participating in the lottery that offers millionaire prizes


One in two American adults buys a lottery ticket at least once a year. In a country with almost 332 million inhabitants, 150 million are adept at games of chance. The raffle tickets like the Powerball and Mega Millions may seem like a benign form of entertainmentbut also a dangerous addiction, depending on your approach.

In a recent chronicle of The New Yorker, the journalist Kathryn Schulz analyzes the influence that the lottery has on Americans and how it has been part of the nation’s culture since colonial times. In fact, although they date from the Roman Empire and evolved to what is currently known, the lotteries “helped England expand in the United States”reviewed the winner of a Pulitzer Prize.

Powerball winners for July 19Pixabay

European colonization of the continent was partially financed through lotteries. They then became common in the colonies themselves, despite strong Protestant prohibitions against gambling. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which held its first authorized lottery in 1745, dice and playing cards were prohibited even in private homes.

Likewise, beyond the moral connotations that can be attributed to the lottery, the first North American states lacked funds to finance themselves and faced a great need to advance with public works. In this context and in the face of the strong rejection that existed around the collection of taxes, raffles have become a striking alternative to generate money.

With those funds practically everything was built, from churches to prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. As if that were not enough, it was common to hear in the same sentence some name of the American presidents and the word lottery. According to the journalist: “George Washington once ran a Virginia-based lottery whose prizes included human beings.”

A Screen Shows The Amount Of The Jackpot For A Mega Millions Lottery Draw
A screen shows the amount of the jackpot for a Mega Millions lottery draw( Associated Press Photo/Steve Helber)

But the draws they were not always seen favorably or as a means to an end. There were times when almost every state in the country banned them due to mismanagement and bad practice, and just as happened with the ban on alcohol, illegal lotteries emerged and turned out to be so profitable that even organized crime financed itself with them.

Schulz, who based his text on: For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America, a book by historian Jonathan D. Cohen, also put facts into numbers, stating that one in four Americans buy a lottery ticket at least once a monthand the most avid gamers buy them at prices that even exceed $300.

“Americans spend more on lottery tickets each year than on cigarettes, coffee or smartphones”pointed out the journalist, who also specified that more is spent on lottery tickets than on cable television transmission services, concert or movie tickets and books, all combined.

The Two Mega Millions And Powerball Jackpots
The two Mega Millions and Powerball jackpotsAFP

But the center of this matter goes hand in hand with the history and tradition of this type of games in the country -which goes back centuries-, but rather about how convenient it is or not when it goes from entertainment to addiction.

In addition, in the United States, the lottery is played in almost all states, and it is precisely they who opt for it, instead of increasing rates or creating new taxes, although many economists reject that this premise is true. From another angle, for some specialists in the field of sociology, the power with which the population participates in this entertainment could touch the limits of become a public health problem if proper measures are not taken.

However, despite the fact that it was found that, on average, the lottery only represents 1% of the total collection made by a state -instead of charging taxes-, it is not foreseen that they will be dispensed with in the near future. On the contrary, the offer, variety and number of draws increase over time, as well as the number of people who participate in it.


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