The Two Main Messages of the Lottery Industry

The drawing of lots for the determination of fates and fortunes has a long history in human society, dating back to biblical times. More recently, it’s become the source of public revenue. Typically, states legislate a state lottery monopoly; establish a government agency or public corporation to run the lottery (as opposed to licensing a private firm in return for a share of proceeds); begin with a modest number of relatively simple games; and then, if successful, progressively expand the game’s offerings.

The most prominent message that the lottery industry tries to send is that, even if you don’t win, it’s good to play because it raises money for the state. But that message obscures the regressivity of the lottery. It also fails to make clear that winning the lottery is an activity with a significant probability of rewriting your life story.

The second main message is that the lottery is fun to play. And that’s a very important thing to remember, because the vast majority of people who buy tickets do so for enjoyment. These are the people who don’t play “quick pick” numbers that have already been selected by a machine. They take the time to choose their own numbers and then, bi-weekly, they watch to see if they’re a winner. If they are, then the money they hand to the retailer goes into the jackpot for the next drawing. If not, then it stays in the retailer’s pocket.