The Lottery – Is it Right for the Government to Promote Gambling?


The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn for prizes. The word derives from the Latin loteria, meaning “drawing of lots.” There is a long history of using lots to decide matters. It is recorded that the casting of lots for property distribution and even slaves was common in ancient Rome, and it is likely that public lotteries were held much earlier than that.

State governments have a long tradition of holding lotteries to raise money for various projects. Lotteries are typically run by the state itself, although some states have private promoters. In either case, the process is similar: The state legislates a monopoly; establishes an agency or public corporation to run the lottery; begins operations with a modest number of relatively simple games; and, due to pressure for additional revenues, progressively expands the lottery in size and complexity.

A key element of lottery expansion is the growth in prize amounts. The large jackpots attract public attention and increase sales. They also earn a windfall of free publicity from news websites and television shows. However, it has been found that jackpots must be drawn frequently to maintain interest; otherwise the jackpot quickly drops back to a small sum. This has led to a trend toward introducing new types of games in an attempt to keep the interest level high.

When people purchase tickets, they have a choice of how many numbers they want to select and how much to wager. Some choose the quick play option in which a computer randomly picks a set of numbers for them. Choosing this option allows the player to save time by not having to fill in the numbers themselves. In addition, some modern lottery games allow players to mark a box or section on the playslip that indicates they agree to whatever numbers the computer has chosen.

The most fundamental issue with lotteries is the state’s desire to profit from an activity that is generally considered to be gambling. In an anti-tax era, state politicians may be eager to embrace any source of revenue that does not require a general increase in taxes.

But is it appropriate for the government to promote gambling and, if so, on what basis? Some state officials argue that a lottery is a legitimate source of “painless” revenue. That may be true, but it does not explain why taxpayers should have to subsidize this type of gambling. The bigger issue is that lotteries, like all forms of gambling, dangle the promise of instant wealth in a society with limited social mobility and widespread poverty. This is an inappropriate use of state funds. In addition, the promotional tactics used in lotteries are often deceptive and aimed at manipulating vulnerable populations. In short, there are a variety of reasons why state lotteries should not be promoted.