Public Policy and the Lottery

Lottery is a classic example of public policy that is designed to maximize revenues, and not for the general welfare. Although the practice of making decisions or determining fates by the casting of lots has a long history (including several examples in the Bible), lottery play for material rewards is relatively modern.

The popularity of state-sponsored lottery games has created a powerful incentive for lawmakers to promote them, but the resulting policies often go at cross purposes with the broader public interest. For one thing, the promotional emphasis on the “wacky” and “weird” nature of gambling obscures its seriousness to many people, particularly those who are deeply committed gamblers and spend a large portion of their incomes on tickets.

In addition to the obvious regressivity of lotteries, they are also often unfair to the poor and those with problems such as addiction. Furthermore, the advertising and promotion of lotteries encourages a dangerously false belief that winning the lottery will solve any financial problems, which is simply not true for most players.

The earliest lotteries were a type of traditional raffle, with people purchasing tickets that would be entered into a drawing at some future date, weeks or months in the future. Since the 1970s, however, a series of innovations have transformed lotteries into instant-play games such as scratch-off tickets that offer smaller prizes and much higher odds of winning. Revenues typically expand dramatically after such innovations are introduced, but they can eventually level off or even decline. As a result, many state lotteries are constantly introducing new games in order to maintain or increase their profits.

By purethoughtshorserescue
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