Lottery Wars: Long Odds, Fast Money, and the Battle Over an American Institution

Lottery Wars: Long Odds, Fast Money, and the Battle Over an American Institution

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by Matthew Sweeney
     
 

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The story behind the American lottery: gambling, lawsuits, corruption, moralizing, financial ruin, and more gambling.

Despite the infinitesimal odds, more than half of Americans admit to playing the lottery. We wait on long lines and give up our coffee breaks. We scratch tickets, win, and spend the winnings on more scratch tickets. We play our

Overview

The story behind the American lottery: gambling, lawsuits, corruption, moralizing, financial ruin, and more gambling.

Despite the infinitesimal odds, more than half of Americans admit to playing the lottery. We wait on long lines and give up our coffee breaks. We scratch tickets, win, and spend the winnings on more scratch tickets. We play our “lucky” numbers, week in and week out.

In a country where gambling is largely illegal, this is a strange state of affairs. Lotteries kept the Jamestown settlers alive, despite misgivings from the throne of England. After centuries of a love-hate relationship with the public and the government, including a nationwide ban, forty-two states and the nation’s capital now encourage lottery gambling in the name of school kids and senior citizens. T he lotteries have succeeded despite opposition from an odd pairing of the religious right and liberal opponents, who claim the government ought not be in the business of promoting long-odds jackpots to the poor or gullible.

Why do we play this game that brings few rewards and leaves us rifling through the garbage for the ticket we swear would be a winner? How has this game persisted, even flourished, against so many obstacles?

In this perceptive, compulsively readable book, Matthew Sweeney gives a history of the American lottery, stopping along the way to give us the bizarre—and sometimes tragic—stories that it makes possible: the five-million-dollar miracle man who became a penniless preacher, investing in a crackpot energy scheme; the senator whose untimely injury allowed the lottery to pass into law in his home state; and many others.

Written with insight and wit, The Lottery Wars gives us the people and the stories that built a nationwide institution, for better or worse.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Illuminating…pithy…poignant…a richly informed account.”—Wall Street Journal

“Although the book is a fairly short read, it is also a pleasure: a non-polemical, fact-filled encounter with a kaleidoscopic view of the lottery…a very strong book.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Sweeney compellingly maps the seedy history of this American pastime.”Mother Jones

The Lottery Wars is a cool, necessary, entertaining eye-opener. Despite what some preachers and politicians would have us believe, gambling has been integral to American progress since before the founding fathers were born. Beginning at Jamestown in 1612, Matthew Sweeney brings us right up to Powerball payouts and politics, helping us understand who we are.”—James McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street

“Short of throwing money from the backs of trains, lotteries are surely the least efficient means of wealth transmission known to man. The Lottery Wars is the fascinating and, at times, horrifying story of how this financial contraption, the relentless and cynical marketing of optimism, came to be such a big part of our culture. A wonderful book.”—Richard Hoffer, author of Jackpot Nation

“Matthew Sweeney gives us an insightful glimpse into the ethos and exploitation in America’s multi-billion-dollar lottery world. The psychology of hope and the tragedy of addiction meet head-on the greed of a state-sponsored racket. The Lottery Wars is an indictment of a system that preys on the poor and the hopeless under the auspices of community good. You will never again view a discarded “scratch” ticket as symbol of harmless entertainment.”—Sally Denton, author of Passion and Principle and The Money and the Power

Library Journal

New York journalist Sweeney offers a history of the lottery in America, interwoven with tales of individual wins and losses, as well as descriptions of the battles fought over whether or not to create lottery systems in various states. While much has been written from economic and popular perspectives on the merits and evils of lotteries, this book combines history and personal anecdote, presumably in an attempt to provide a comprehensive picture. Perhaps the best part of the book is the inclusion of personal stories taken from interviews with lottery winners, losers, and addicts; readers are allowed to make their own judgments about the relative benefits and demerits of lotteries. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a lack of organization. The introduction jumps from topic to topic, with no statement of purpose; the loosely arranged chapters would have benefited from structural clues, such as section headings and summary sentences. Owing to these problems, it is difficult to recommend this book, though there will be readers in popular culture who will want to see it.
—Elizabeth L. Winter

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596913042
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
03/03/2009
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Sweeney is a journalist who has written for both the New York Times and the New York Post. He lives in Brooklyn.

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Lottery Wars: Long Odds, Fast Money, and the Battle Over an American Institution 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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