Half of Americans say they have purchased a lottery ticket in the past year, establishing state-sponsored lotteries as the most popular form of gambling in America, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Ticket buyers spend an average of $19 a month, according to the survey, which also suggested that many Americans don’t consider lotteries to be a form of gambling.

Three percent fewer people answered yes to a question about whether they had participated in legal gambling than the 49 percent who indicated they had played the lottery. Among those who said they bought lottery tickets, 45 percent also denied gambling.

The survey said men are more likely than women to buy lottery tickets, but women tend to spend more money. Young adults aged 18-29 are least likely to buy lottery tickets (40 percent), while ages 50-64 are most likely (54 percent).

In what pollsters described as “the most troublesome” finding, 45 percent of Americans earning less than $20,000 a year said they bought lottery tickets. That is slightly lower than other income groups, but low-income people who buy lottery tickets spend an average $46 a month, more than twice as much as other participants.

In terms of geography, Southerners were least likely to play the lottery (44 percent). Midwesterners are most likely to buy tickets (58 percent) and also spend the most, $27 per month.

Nationwide, 38 states and the District of Columbia have state lottery programs.

Many states have initiated lotteries or other gambling programs to increase funds for education. However, only a third of lottery sales go to educational funding–half go to winnings and 16 percent go “to those who sell tickets and mange the lottery,” Money Magazine reported in 1996.

Legalized gambling is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. “In 2001, the gross revenues from gambling were $68.7 billion–more money than Americans spent on music, movies, spectator sports, video games and theme parks combined,” according to Focus on the Family.

Critics say the spread of state-sponsored gambling has negative effects on society. The National Council on Compulsive Gambling says 10 percent of lottery players are gambling addicts.

The Gallup Poll, based on telephone interviews with 1,011 adult aged 18 and older conducted Dec. 11-14, reported a sampling margin of error of 3 percent.

Chasity Ann Gunn, a student at Belmont University, is an intern for EthicsDaily.com.

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