The Lottery and Its Critics


Whether or not you play the lottery, you probably have seen the billboards blaring the jackpot numbers. And even if you haven’t, you likely know that winning is a long shot. And you probably also know that, on some level, people just plain like to gamble.

The casting of lots to determine fates and distribute property has a long history, going back centuries (there are even some examples in the Bible). But lotteries, as state-sponsored games that award money or prizes based on chance, have been relatively recent.

Most states establish a lottery by enacting legislation creating a monopoly; establishing a public agency or corporation to run the lottery (rather than licensing a private firm in return for a share of profits); beginning operations with a modest number of simple games; and, due to constant pressure for additional revenues, gradually expanding the size and complexity of the lottery by adding new games.

In the US, lotteries have become a major source of tax revenue for many states. And, as a result, they have generally enjoyed broad public approval. But, as a recent study shows, this popularity is not connected to the actual fiscal health of state governments.

A number of critics have charged that lotteries are often misleading or deceptive, including presenting odds of winning as significantly higher than they actually are (the true odds are published in the official rules); inflating prize amounts, especially when a prize is paid over many years with inflation and taxes eroding the value; and using flashy graphics and slogans to entice players.