The State Lottery and Its Disadvantages

info Jun 4, 2024

Buying a lottery ticket gives you the chance to fantasize about winning a fortune at a cost of just a few bucks. For many, it seems like a harmless hobby—or even a way to do a little good in the world, by helping to raise money for school systems and hospitals. But critics say the truth is that lottery games disproportionately drain the budgets of those least able to afford them, while also contributing to an ugly underbelly of addiction and compulsive behavior.

Since the early 1970s, state lotteries have emerged in nearly every US jurisdiction. In the early days of these new institutions, states tended to introduce games that were very much like traditional raffles, with the public buying tickets for a drawing held weeks or even months in the future. Revenues grew rapidly for a while, but eventually began to level off or decline. To maintain or grow revenues, lottery officials introduced new games that offered lower prizes and higher odds of winning.

This process of gradual expansion and incremental change illustrates a common feature of state government: the establishment of lotteries is usually accompanied by fragmented, piecemeal decision making and an increasing dependence on revenue that is outside their control. This can result in a situation where lottery officials are pushed and pulled by a host of factors, including pressures from voters and politicians for greater profits, while the broader public is often left to watch from the sidelines.