• Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

Is the Lottery a Proper Function for Government?


May 31, 2024

A lottery is an arrangement in which people buy tickets and prizes are allocated to those whose numbers are drawn by lot: the winners are thus selected by chance. It may be run by a state or an organization as a way of raising funds. The concept has a long history, with the casting of lots for decisions and the determination of fates having a long record in human history (including several instances in the Bible).

It is generally agreed that the lottery raises more money than it costs to organize and advertise it. A percentage of this total must go to taxes and profits, leaving a small sum available for the prizes. The question is whether this is a proper function for government, especially in an antitax era when governments are often dependent on “painless” lottery revenues and subject to pressure to increase those revenues.

Study after study suggests that the lottery is a form of gambling that skews toward low-income people and minorities, and among those who already have a gambling problem. In addition, lottery play tends to decrease with formal education and rise with age. Vox recently reported on the data for Connecticut, where ticket sales are disproportionately concentrated in poor neighborhoods and skew heavily toward men.

Despite these problems, the lottery is very popular with the public, and states have found it difficult to dissuade the public from voting in favor of its adoption. In fact, a study by Clotfelter and Cook showed that the public’s support of a lottery is not necessarily tied to a state government’s actual fiscal situation; it appears that the political benefits outweigh the social costs of promoting gambling.