For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries and American Inequality

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Cohen, Jonathan, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History, University of Virginia

Americans are obsessed with playing the lottery in pursuit of life-changing jackpots. Every year, Americans spend over $80 billion on lottery tickets, more than they spend on books, sports tickets, video games, music, and movie tickets combined. “For a Dollar and a Dream” illustrates the parallels between lottery players and the political actors who facilitated the spread of legalized gambling in the United States. In an era of declining social mobility and rising inequality, millions of bettors turned to lotteries driven by the hopeful, wishful belief that gambling could solve their financial problems. Similarly, between 1963 and 2013, 44 states enacted lotteries because lotteries appeared to offer something for nothing, a painless solution to the pressing political and financial problems that beset state governments in the post-World War II period. Voters and legislators refused to confront the conflict between their demands for tax breaks and their desire for government services, and they turned instead to gambling, hoping for a budgetary miracle. “For a Dollar and a Dream” illustrates that the magical thinking frequently condemned among lottery players represented a fundamental feature of many citizens’ relationship with government in the late twentieth century.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Gambling, Inequality, Social mobility, Taxation, Lotteries, Education, Politics, Wealth
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