The Lottery and Government Revenue

The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to win a prize. It is a violation of the biblical command not to covet “money or anything that money can buy” (Exodus 20:17). It is also an expression of mankind’s insatiable desire for instant wealth and a means to avoid hard work. Lotteries lure people into gambling with promises that their problems will disappear if they can just hit the jackpot. The problem is that such hopes are empty, and the truth is that most players are poorer after they win than they were before.

Once state-run, lottery operations typically follow a predictable path: the state legislates a monopoly for itself; establishes a public corporation to run the operation; begins with a modest number of relatively simple games and, under pressure for additional revenues, progressively adds new games. The lottery thus becomes a business, and its promotional activities necessarily involve promoting gambling to specific target groups of consumers, which raises important issues about the exploitation of problem gamblers, the impact on low-income groups, and the extent to which the lottery is serving as a substitute for other forms of government revenue.

Many people play the lottery because they like to gamble. They are willing to invest $1 or $2 for the chance to win hundreds of millions. The odds are remarkably slight, however, and lottery purchases can detract from other expenditures and savings. In addition, as a group, lottery players contribute billions to government receipts that could have been used for other purposes such as education, health, or retirement.