The Public Good and the Lottery


Lottery is a form of gambling in which players choose numbers for a chance to win a prize. It’s a popular pastime in many countries, including the United States, where 50 percent of adults purchase at least one ticket a year. The majority of lottery players are low-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male. They tend to buy tickets more often when a jackpot is large, and their play is concentrated around major draws and a few smaller ones.

State governments adopt lotteries to raise funds for a variety of purposes. Historically, they have argued that proceeds benefit the public good. This claim is particularly effective in times of economic stress, when state government budgets are under pressure. But studies suggest that lotteries remain popular even when the state’s fiscal condition is strong.

The state’s reliance on lotteries as a source of revenue is problematic. In an era of antitax sentiment, it is questionable for a state to be heavily dependent on a form of gambling from which it profits. Furthermore, state promotion of the lottery appears to run at cross-purposes with other government goals, such as reducing poverty and crime.