In a lottery, each application has an equal chance of being selected. Your eligibility for HACA’s services, or the number of preference points you have, does not impact your odds of being selected. The color of each row indicates the total number of times your application was awarded the column’s position (from first on the left to one hundredth on the right). The fact that rows and columns appear to have approximately similar counts, for example red or yellow, shows that the results are unbiased, with each application getting its respective rank a fairly close number of times.
Cohen is careful not to overstate the influence of lottery on American life, but it is an important aspect of his narrative that we should not overlook. As he points out, the era in which lotteries became an obsession — a time when many Americans believed that winning a lottery jackpot would be “a get-out-of-jail-free card for most of us” – coincided with a decline in America’s financial security. Income gaps widened, job security and pensions eroded, health-care costs skyrocketed, and, for most, the long-standing national promise that hard work would pay off was fading fast.
Until then, lotteries were a perfect solution for politicians looking to balance state budgets without raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were highly unpopular with voters. But, as Cohen notes, as the rich played more and more of a role in lottery play (one study found that those earning fifty thousand dollars or more spend on average one per cent of their annual income on tickets), politicians began to sell legalization by touting it as a way to float a single government line item, typically education but sometimes elder care or public parks or aid for veterans.