Lottery Policy


The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to determine the winner of a prize. Prizes may be cash or goods. The chances of winning are dependent on the number of tickets purchased, the amount of money spent on those tickets and the size of the jackpot.

The primary argument used by state governments to promote lotteries is that they are a source of “painless” revenue, meaning that players voluntarily spend their money (as opposed to being taxed). This message is particularly effective in times of economic stress when politicians fear that the public might turn against them for raising taxes or cutting other forms of government spending.

But even when the state’s fiscal condition is robust, lotteries gain broad public approval and continue to grow rapidly. Lottery supporters often argue that the proceeds from lotteries are earmarked for specific “public good” purposes, such as education, and therefore deserve to be viewed as a legitimate form of government revenue. But studies of lottery policymaking in the US and elsewhere have revealed a much more complicated picture.

The lottery is a classic example of how public policy is made piecemeal and incrementally, with little or no overall policy vision or overview. As a result, many state lotteries have evolved in ways that have nothing to do with the objectives originally identified for them. Many have become dependent on the revenues they generate, and public officials find themselves with a difficult balancing act in which their ability to manage the lottery is constrained by the pressures to keep them growing.