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Lotteries: The Issue

The term "lottery" is defined as a drawing of lots in which prizes are distributed to the winners among persons buying a chance. Lotteries are fundamentally different from other forms of gambling, as they are only provided by the state.

Lotteries have been part of American civilization since 1612, when the English initiated a lottery (in the form of an authorized drawing) to help fund the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Historically, lotteries had a starting and ending point; they weren't meant to be ongoing sources of taxation.

Assuming various forms today, lotteries have been legalized in 43 states (plus the District of Columbia). The only states without a lottery are: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Lottery sales are in excess of $57 billion, and lottery gamblers lost more than $17 billion in 2007.

Six states currently operate highly addictive video lottery terminals or VLTs: Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhone Island, South Dakota and West Virginia. In West Virginia alone, people gambled more than $15 billion on VLTs during 2007.

States have effectively marketed their lottery-based promises and false hope to America, and citizens have swallowed them hook, line and sinker. But, if you scratch beneath the surface of the "help-your-state" lottery veneer, neither citizens nor states are winners. There are a number of legitimate questions citizens need to ask before supporting lottery expansion or prior to voting to allow a state lottery:

  • Where does the money really go?
  • Who buys the most tickets?
  • Is the lottery really harmless?
  • Who really benefits from lottery revenues?
  • The lottery supposedly helps education and benefits our kids, but states such as New York and Florida have only seen broken promises. Why?
  • Will lottery funded programs lose state financial aid?
  • If lotteries are a benign form of gambling, then why are people becoming addicted to the lottery?

Learn about the lottery before you vote!

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Next in this Series: Lotteries: Cause for Concern

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