Lottery – Is it in the Public Interest to Promote Gambling?


Lottery is a popular activity in which people pay money for the chance to win a prize that is usually much lower than the amount of money paid in. Governments guard lotteries jealously, as they can be a source of revenue that helps them to avoid higher taxes or budget cuts. However, it is important to remember that lottery revenues are profits from gambling, and promoting the lottery therefore necessarily involves a certain degree of promotion of an addictive form of gambling. This puts the lottery at cross-purposes with the public interest, and some questions can arise about whether a state should be running such a profitable enterprise and at such cross-purposes with its larger social obligations.

The casting of lots to determine fates and property is a practice that has long history, including several instances in the Bible, but lotteries for material gain have been relatively recent. State lotteries generally follow similar patterns: they begin operations with the establishment of a state agency or corporation (as opposed to licensing private firms for a fee); start out small and modest in scope; and, driven by continuous pressure to generate more and more revenues, gradually grow in size and complexity.

There are a number of different types of lottery games, from the simple 50/50 drawing at local events to multi-state lotteries with jackpots in the millions. The odds of winning a large jackpot are very slim, but the chances of winning a smaller prize are not as bad as one might think. Many people join lottery syndicates, which means that they buy many tickets at once so that the cost per ticket goes down and the chances of winning go up.