Profitable Lottery

Profitable lottery, a new book by journalist Sam Cohen, examines the lucrative business of lotteries. It argues that lottery profits benefit multinational companies that produce and market scratch-off tickets, convenience stores that sell them, media firms that promote the games, state administrations that oversee them and private companies that operate the machines and distribute prizes. The result is that lottery players fund a system that gives a large slice of its revenue to private companies, while the states and their workers get only about a quarter of that amount.

The rest goes to retailers that earn commissions on ticket sales, as well as bonuses and awards for cashing winning tickets. A small share also goes to the state, which can use it for education or other programs. In Ohio, for example, the Lottery Profits Education Fund supports K-12, vocational and special education. Other states use a portion of the revenue for infrastructure, senior citizens and first responders.

Americans spend $70 billion a year on lottery tickets. That’s a lot of money that could be going toward savings for retirement or paying off debt. Veronica Gillard, who has spent $30 a week on tickets since 1991, says she considers her habit “an investment.” But Cohen argues that it’s not an equitable investment, especially for people living in poverty. It’s a form of gambling that preys upon dreams, and it does more harm than good for scores of low-income individuals who are already struggling to survive.