Life is a Lottery

a gambling game or method of raising money in which tickets are sold and a drawing is held for prizes. (plural lot*ter*ies) a situation or process that appears to be determined by chance: Life is a lottery.

Despite the fact that people who play the lottery are aware of the odds, the fact is that many continue to purchase tickets. They do so because they believe they have a good chance of winning, and because the prevailing meritocratic belief in our country is that anyone, even the poorest, has a chance to get rich someday if only they try hard enough.

In the case of state lotteries, this belief is bolstered by the fact that state governments have a monopoly on the games; they set their own prize levels and determine how the tickets are distributed, and in general their popularity does not appear to be tied to a state’s actual fiscal health. In fact, studies show that the public’s support for a lottery is far greater when its proceeds are seen to benefit some specific public good than when it raises general revenue.

In addition, the fact is that a lot of people who play the lottery come from middle-income neighborhoods, and fewer than proportionally from low-income areas; this tends to reinforce the notion that the lottery is a kind of social mobility device. The result is that the states which operate lotteries, as well as the convenience store operators and other suppliers who do business with them, become dependent on “painless” lottery revenues, and the pressure is always on to expand the activities from which these profits can be made.